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The ultimate guide to visiting the Burj Khalifa

Beyond its futuristic sky-scratching exterior and impressive steely armour, the world's tallest edifice hosts a good deal of attractions inside. From the world's first designer hotel to the spectacular, vertigo-inducing observation deck at Level 148, in this piece we look at all there is to the world's tallest tower and how to enjoy all it has to offer.

The ultimate guide to visiting the Burj Khalifa

Much has been written about the world's tallest tower, the world followed its developments in awe long before it officially broke the records as the planet's highest freestanding structure. And shortly after it was completed on 2010 the world turned its eyes to it once again to marvel at its jagged, futuristic beauty and wonder at what it must feel like at the top of the world, quite literally.

On this post we explore all there is to do inside this magnificent structure. As it continues developing over the years no doubt more and more attractions will fill floors that still stand empty (well with 160 of them it's quite a task to occupy them all!) but until that happens (indeed if it does, as the extra space could well be bought by companies to use as offices and headquarters) here we give you the lowdown on what there is to do and experience at the Burj Khalifa as a visitor.

How tall is it?

Rising high and standing tall at over 828 metres (2,7165.5 feet to be precise) the Burj Khalifa is one record-breaking feat of a marvel with a long list of titles, including:

  • World's tallest building
  • World's tallest free-standing structure
  • Highest number of floors in the world
  • Highest occupied floor in the world
  • Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
  • Tallest lift in the world
  • Lift with the world's longest travel distance

There you have it, an impressive list detailing its imposing height in more than one way, just in case you needed more reasons to be stunned and seduced by its sleek altitude.

How tall is the Burj Khalifa?

The Burj Khalifa contains 160 floors of usable, accessible space, but its real number of floors is 163 to be precise, although you will only hear or read about them boasting 160, given that the top three are part of a Mechanical Wing not accessed by the public. Throughout this blog we refer to 160 stories as well, as the other three are as good as non-existent since there's nothing worthy of mentioning (or visiting) there. But to be fair and exact in terms of its unsurpassable sky-scraping height and record-breaking numbers of floors, the Burj Khalifa has a staggering 163 of them!

Burj Khalifa has a staggering 163 of them!

It will draw your breath as you stand before it and struggle to crane your head all the way back to take in all of its length. You might not be able to see its tip on some occasions as the combination of height and glaring sunshine all the way up there might blind you!

How long did it take to build and how much did it cost?

Building the Burj Khalifa, as you probably imagine, was not done overnight, and the construction process wasn't without its hiccups. Still, for a structure of such epic proportions things moved along quite swiftly, all things considered.

Construction began in 2004, with all of the building's skeletal work and exterior completed by 1st October 2009. It took another three months to get its interiors finished and up to scratch before the big opening ceremony on 4th January 2010. It doesn't seem that long of a wait when you see the result – a shiny, steely, rocket-like building that narrows as it reaches up to cloud-touching heights no other manmade structure has ever reached.

Financing such a big project that entailed so many custom-made designed extras (such as a mechanical window-cleaning system for the top 27 floors developed in Australia at a cost of $8 million) and three massive tower cranes for the construction of the uppermost levels.

How long did it take to build and how much did it cost?

The Burj Khalifa came with a staggering price tag of $1.5 billion US dollars to match. Although this huge figure might seem mind-blowingly huge to you, it's not as much as you think for a building of its complexity and stature. Part of this is due to the clever and compact design of the structure, making it relatively simple to construct with cheap materials like reinforced concrete for the first 156 floors as opposed to costly steel which made up the remainder of the top floors. This means that much of the building is made of the same components stacked on top on each other time after time, making the work more straightforward and cost-effective.

Still, 1.5 billion US dollars is no pocket money and even Dubai's oil rich economy run up a debt during its construction as its completion coincided with the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Its richer nearby neighbour of Abu Dhabi came to its rescue with the lending of the money needed to finish the building works and hence its name was swiftly changed at the last minute, just before its opening, from its original of Bur Dubai to Burj Khalifa, as a nod to President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Where is it and how to get there?

Getting to the Burj Khalifa is easy and straightforward enough, yet you cannot enter it directly and no taxi will take you straight to it unless you're a resident or staying at the Armani Hotel (or have a reservation to dine or lunch at At.Mosphere). The accessible part of the Burj Khalifa for the general public is via the Dubai Mall, and you can only make your way there via the Dubai Mall entrance, on the lower ground floor.

From there you come out directly to the Burj Khalifa's ground floor where the "At the Top" experience is located. Once here you can buy tickets to climb to the top or hand in your previously booked tickets and join the queue. I went on a Thursday and the queues were short and moved along fast. The experience might be different on weekends or at peak times so be mindful of that when booking ahead.

You can get there via the Dubai Metro, hop off at the Dubai Mall station and once inside the mall follow the signs for Burj Khalifa's At The Top experience. With all the walking done inside the mall you won't have to wonder under Dubai's high temperatures.

Of course you can also hail a taxi from your hotel to take you there, which is what I did the first time I visited. It will most likely drop you at The Address Downtown Dubai, at least that's where I got off. From there you walk over a scenic bridge (from which you can observe the Downtown Dubai area in its full glory) connecting you to the Dubai Mall via an outdoor entrance. You'll step into air-conditioned perfection facing a beautiful fountain with silver sculptures of diving men – the gushing sound of the water alone will instantly cool and relax you. From there on it's a case of following signs.

What's inside?

So what's inside then? How exactly do you fill an 828-metre-building that stretches across no less than 160 stories? Well, with a swanky hotel occupying its first 15 floors, a total of 900 luxury residential flats filling most of the following floors up to level 108, a lavish restaurant occupying a further three floors on levels 122, 123 and 124 plus observation decks going from level 125 to 148, the rest is all office space that's either occupied or awaiting tenants.

Where can you go inside the Burj Khalifa, what floors are open to the public and how high can you climb? The answers to all three you'll find in the following list of Burj Khalifa attractions.

Observation Decks at Levels 124, 125 and 148 – At the Top

The most obvious attraction of them all, and by far, one of the most publicised and recommended ones; climbing to view all of Dubai from its 125th and 148th floors is no doubt the highlight of entering this pointy tower. It's also the top must-do thing here.

How do you make it there? Well, first you book tickets either onsite or online, with the latter woking out more convenient, especially if you don't want to wait in line, especially on weekends when the "At the Top" attraction at its busiest. Different time slots are priced differently; with entry between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. working out the most expensive, as most people want to make it there in time for sunset; when the sky exhibits shimmering changing shades of colour and the views become extra special. You can pay for climbing to floors 124 and 125 at a reduced rate or pay a premium rate for making it to all three levels; 124, 125 and 148 - with this ticket also including refreshments at the SKY Lounge. Tickets for non-prime visiting hours are priced between 125 AED and 350 AED. For peak hours the adult rate varies between 200 AED and 500 AED. Children under four go free and those aged between 4 and 12 pay a reduced fare during some time slots.

Observation Decks at Levels 125 and 148 - At the Top

Such is the popularity of climbing to the top (or as close as you can get to it so far) of the Burj Khalifa tower, that as a fun fact the tower's official website states:

"By the end of 2014, the distance travelled by the observation deck elevators was equivalent to circumnavigating the globe eight times"

And here's another fun factoid for you – did you know that the Burj Khalifa is the only place in the world where you can watch two sunsets on the same day? Yes, you read right – this mega building is so tall that you can watch the first sunset at its base, then rush to take the speedy lift up to its observation deck and see it all over again! How is that possible? Here is the geeky bit, this happens because Earth is curved and by sticking out perpendicular to its curvature, you are able to see more of what lies in the horizon. The fastest you can get to the top, the longer your second sunset will be. So once the sun completely sinks at the base of the Burj Khalifa, hop on the lift as fast as you can (hopefully there won't be long queues delaying the experience) and you'll be able to relish in a second sunset. The time difference between the base and the top of the tower is a whole three minutes!

Susana At the Top

The views "At the Top" are nothing short of inspiring and vertigo-inducing. It's the one place from which you can observe all of Dubai at leisure. The bird's eye view is so high that you won't be able to spot people and cars look like little coloured ants. This is the time to get your camera ready and shoot from every angle you can. Stop by the shop before you leave to take home some treasured souvenirs of your highest (may I add, effortless) climb.

Armani Hotel

The second most-talked about topic after the impressive height of the Burj Khalifa, is the fashionably chic hotel it houses. Ever since the announcement that the world's tallest tower would be home to the first ever Armani hotel, speculation grew wild at what it would look like. Now there's little need to wonder as photos of it have flooded the internet and covered fashion and travel magazines alike.

Personally designed by Mr Giorgio Armani himself and open since 27th April 2010, the Armani Hotel is somewhat of a novelty in the boutique hotel industry. It's the first to be fully designed by a haute couture fashion name as prestigious as Armani. And it won't be the last, as Armani commissioned the building of a further six hotels and three holiday resorts under the Armani name. So far, to follow the one in Dubai another one opened a year later in Milan, the Armani Milano.

Dubai Fountain as seen from Armani Hotel

The Armani Hotel, Dubai is a one-of-a-kind in the emirate and the world, offering unedited levels of sophistication across its 160 exclusive rooms and suites, with every decor and furnishing touch bearing the Armani signature. Guests can choose from eight different hotel dining venues, an ultra-chic spa and a heart-shaped pool. Oh, and magnificent room views looking out to the Dubai Fountain, the downtown area or the Arabian Gulf, with a unique location inside the world's tallest building! Indeed, a stay here promises to be truly special, if you can afford it. This is ultra high-end lifestyle luxury at sky-rocketing prices.

Armani Prive – where partygoers get down

Part of the Armani hotel and located at lobby level, this is Burj Khalifa's only nightclub and highly popular at that. It might not be Dubai's number one nightspot but it certainly attracts a trendy crowd.

A replica of Milan’s ultra-exclusive Armani/Prive lounge, this VIP venue is one swanky place in which to dance the night away until the early hours of the morning to the pulsating beats of the resident DJ or international guest DJs.

Entry is free but a door policy applies (smart and elegant attire is a must and walk-in guests must either bring a partner or be part of a mixed group) and the club doesn’t open on Mondays or Wednesdays. The rest of the week it welcomes clubbers from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The best place to come is on a Saturday with the “XO Saturdays” party drawing the biggest crowds, getting down to Hip-Hop, R&B beats. This is the place to drink up, soak in the glamour and enjoy a visually striking and extravagantly luxurious clubbing experience you won’t forget in a hurry.

The interiors alone are worthy of a visit, and, yes, the drinks are ridiculously overpriced, but you're paying for the ambience as much as for the experience and the beverages, so make a night of it, Armani style!

World's second largest pool at level 76th

Officially the second highest pool in the world, the scenic swimming pool at level 76th of the Burj Khalifa certainly does not come second to anyone in terms of design and beauty.

It's not grand, it doesn't boast epic proportions or cutting-edge design, yet this is one pool that's not an ounce short of extraordinary. Small it may be but it offers something no other pool in Dubai (or most of the world) can offer - sky-high views over the city and the Gulf.

Cosy, private and half-moon shaped this balcony pool is in the Sky Lobby on level 76th. Part of Burj Khalifa's residential area, access to it is strictly limited to residents and their families or friends. So, if you know of anyone living there, maybe they can hook you up, invite you in and have you soaking in the stunning views by the world's second largest pool. If not, images of it have been made publicly available and nothing stops you from dreaming the dream.

At.Mosphere – the world's highest restaurant

At.Mosphere - the world's highest restaurant

The place to linger over an overpriced cocktail or indulge in gourmet delights while enjoying the most magnificent views, At.Mosphere; the world's highest restaurant takes over one of Burj Khalifa's upper floors and gives visitors a unique opportunity to be wined and dined in style.

An alternative to admiring uninterrupted views of Dubai from one of the highest vantage points in Burj Khalifa, At.Mosphere enjoys a panoramic design where floor-to-ceiling glass windows allow you to peer down below and watch in awe. So, if you don't want to pay for the tickets giving you access the observation decks ‘At The Top', you can pay for a meal here (which will likely you cost you double or double that amount and quite easily more) and make of it an even grander and more special experience.

This is no ordinary restaurant

But you can't just pop in for a bite. This is no ordinary restaurant and to eat on top of the world you must call and book reservations ahead (and there's a minimum spend to be allowed a sit by the spectacular windows). Once that's done you can't just simply climb up. Access to At.Mosphere is strictly through the Armani Hotel only – you turn up at the lobby and then you'll be led to go up and down a number of stairs and lifts – of course this will all act as a reminder you'll be dining in a truly unique location.

The location is indeed what you'll be paying for when the hefty bill comes around, as you'll soon notice that, whilst the food is indeed expertly prepared and every dish as succulent as the next; the sky-high prices can only be justified by the sky-high view. It's not like you'll be dining on Michelin-starred cuisine after all. Nevertheless, you will still be impressed by the quality of the dishes.

At.Mosphere Lounge

Taking up an entire floor at level 122, this visually stunning restaurant and its stylish interiors were designed by New York-based Adam Tihany. Split into three different sections that also include a bar and lounge, this privileged gastronomic venue soaring high at 442 metres above the city offers the most splendid views over Downtown Dubai and the Arabian Gulf. Indeed, the perfect place to mark a special occasion.

Sky Lobbies

There's three of these, one at level 43, another on the 76th floor and the last one on level 123, wedged between the At.Mosphere restaurant and the first observation deck of the "At the Top" experience

Sky Lobbies at Burj Khalifa

These are public places for residents and visitors, although we're not sure how the ordinary visitor would go about getting access of either of these lobbies. My guess is that if you're dining at At.Mosphere on level 122, there's nothing stopping you from going a floor higher, through either stairs or escalators, but as I haven't yet been I cannot comment on that. I endeavour to carry out a personal investigation in this respect, but so far the only glimpse I can offer comes from an article I found on Josour magazine which states:

"Express elevators transport residents and visitors to the sky lobbies on Level 43 and 76, where they are welcomed at an elegantly designed greeting station. Opening to spectacular views of the city and beyond, the lobbies do not have window coverings; instead wooden slats create a screen that filters light and provides a sense of privacy."

I've also been able to find out that in two of these lobbies there are two Amenity Spas, located on levels 43 and 76 to be precise (level 76 is also where the world's largest pool I mentioned earlier is at; so maybe booking a spa treatment here grants you automatic rights to its usage). This is also where a variety of cutting-edge fitness facilities are located, so a good spot as any to work on your fitness regime with a view. Or, alternatively you could hit The Burj Club, which I go into more detail in the next section.

The Burj Club – gym, spa and rooftop bar

Yes, the name may give you expectations of a raving nightclub, yet The Burj Club comprises a selection of facilities spread out across some of the Burj Khalifa’s most exquisitely designed levels.

The Burj Club is a separate wing spanning four floors with each one dedicated to a specific purpose. The first of these floors is the reception area and entrance to the Burj Club with a gym equipped with state-of-the-art fitness facilities and a Juice Bar. Also located on the first floor is a spa and individual exercise rooms. This first level is for ladies only.

The second floor offers exactly the same facilities (gym, spa and exercise rooms) but they’re designated for mixed use (by men and women alike). The ground floor has an indoor pool and the rooftop area has an outdoor pool and lounge area for bites and cocktails. The rooftop lounge perfectly complements the amazing views with daily happy hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on selected drinks.

Access to the Burj Club is through the Burj Khalifa of course, it’s located on the right entrance of the main roundabout and you can get a day pass to enjoy all of its facilities. Alternatively, you can get a membership (not the most cost-effective way of doing it if you’re in Dubai for a short holiday, especially since most hotels have gyms, spas and pools) or book yourself in for a session or two, be it for yoga, pilates or a one-on-one with a personal trainer.

They also offer individualised healthy diet programmes tailored for your specific needs with professional supervision, combined with personalised fitness routines and spa treatments. There is also a bespoke collection of uniquely designed Burj Club Experience packages to perfectly complement a spa visit and enjoy unlimited access to the rest of the wing’s facilities.

What’s so special about it, you ask? It has the added value of being inside the world’s tallest building, and while you work out you could be taking in the most soothing and scenic views over Downtown Dubai. Just imagine, while doing the extended triangle yoga pose (a.k.a. “trikonasana”) you could be facing up to the towering, steely height of the Burj Khalifa. Not bad, eh?

Art, Fashion and Design

Scattered all around the building you'll find beautiful artsy structures, sculptures or dramatic design to feast your eyes on. The building's exterior is a work of art itself and you should expect no less of its interiors.

At.Mosphere's exquisite interiors

From At.Mosphere's exquisite interiors, opulent furnishings, and edgy features to the Armani Hotel and Armani Prive nightclub's signature design, undulating lines, exquisite lighting works, and atmospheric ambience, the Burj Khalifa has no corner untouched or overlooked by expert interior designers. From rich fabrics to golden and silver motifs, glistening marble floors polished to the highest possible mirror-like shine, ornate Swarovski lamps, stunning wall art, and modern cutting-edge ornaments, it's all been done to the highest, most refined taste of and the most meticulous finish. You only have to wander about and draw in your breath at the impressive sights.

As you glance from corner to corner you'll be able to peruse over 1,000 individual works of art, all created by a plethora of worldwide artists and each piece specially commissioned to inspire and stun onlookers. While some areas have been richly decorated with traditional Arabic elements, other depict an edgier outlook on modern emirate life with an injection of international glamour.

To cement and develop on Burj Khalifa's position as an Art and Design hub, there's an ongoing art programme in place with special events and gallery exhibitions hosted throughout the year. The "Passion and Poetry" exhibition held from March to May this year, for example, showcased a selection of pieces by Picasso and Miro.

Burj Khalifa Island Park or Burj Khalifa Tower Park

Burj Khalifa Island Park or Burj Khalifa Tower Park

Or oftentimes simply referred to as the Burj Khalifa Park, this is one of Dubai's greenest areas and certainly its biggest, most dramatically landscaped garden. It spans an impressive eleven hectares (29,000 square metres) of exquisitely designed green spaces and mirror-like water features creating the most tranquil and inviting of lush settings.

Not to be confused with the whole area surrounding the Burj Khalifa, which I describe in the next section in more detail, these gardens are open to the public and not fenced off like other parts of the Burj Khalifa. You can access it directly from the Downtown area and make your way here on foot from the scenic Dubai Lake promenade. Perfect for a relaxing stroll, a soothing stop, an inspired book-reading location or an atmospheric socialising space, this mega park includes also includes a few surrounding restaurants and cafes to stop at for a drink or a light bite.

Entry is free, it's open 24 hours to the public and sometimes hosts special events, such as exclusive concerts, product launches, fashion shows and gala dinners. The views from here are as beautiful as the location itself, with uninterrupted views of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain (you can enjoy the splashing, dancing fountain show from here) and even the Old Town in the distance. There is ample seating area, a forest-like grove, open play space for children and the exquisitely arranged vegetation never fails to delight.

Dubai Lake, Dubai Fountain and Downtown

Dubai Lake, Dubai Fountain and Downtown

Not part of the tower itself but the area surrounding the Burj Khalifa tower is known as Downtown Dubai. What today is known as the downtown area in Dubai was built around the Burj Khalifa and many of its attractions were developed alongside it or after it, not before. So, before the Burj Khalifa started being built, there was nothing else there but miles of isolated desert sands. The Burj Khalifa was the thread upon which everything else spindled.

The Burj Khalifa area now comprises the Burj Khalifa itself, the beautiful Dubai Lake and Dubai Fountain (they're the same thing actually, but Dubai likes to be OTT about everything), a handful of hotels circled around this enormous (and doubtlessly attractive) water feature (the fountain or lake, as you'd rather call it) and the Dubai Mall.

Dubai Fountain

The Dubai Lake contains the magical Dubai Fountains with its dancing show taking place every evening, every half-hour from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. There are two additional afternoon shows daily at 1 and 1:30 p.m. except for Friday, when the water works is scheduled at 1:30 and 2 p.m. Making to at least one of these shows is a must, especially after dusk when the differently coloured lights that give live to the tall outbursts of water can be truly appreciated. This is the world's largest dancing fountain after all, so if in town be sure not miss it! It's free to see and enjoy.

By the Dubai Lake a scenic walkway makes for leisure promenades with a view and a myriad of opportunities for taking more than one impressive selfie. You can also hire a boat and sail down the lake onboard one of the abras for an unforgettable experience (especially if you do it during a fountain show in the evening) and countless more photo ops.

Nowadays the downtown area keeps growing beyond the reaches of the Burj Khalifa and new developments like the Dubai Opera have sprung up into place. No doubt more projects will soon expand the area and make it the living heart and soul of Dubai (if it isn't so already).

Interesting facts

There's surely more interesting facts and curious anecdotes about the building of the Burj Khalifa, and its existence thereafter, than we could mention or possibly know about. Still, there's quite a few insightful curiosities you might like to read about.

Susana at level 153

For instance, level 153 is the highest occupied floor in the world. The rest has been designed as corporate office space but still remains empty so far. Level 153 has a private terrace that's leased out for private and corporate events, so if you pay for it you could organise quite a party at the world's highest occupied floor!

When it came to building the Burj Khalifa's uppermost levels, where manpower could scarcely reach - a daunting task if there ever was any - it took three self-erecting cranes (each with a capacity of 25 tonnes!) to move the construction materials across the site.

Another fun factoid for you, in 2014, as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival celebrations, the Burj Khalifa hosted the world's first vertical fashion show, defying gravity in ways no other cat walk had ever done before, with models strutting their stuff on the Burj Khalifa's external façade.

One last one: the Burj Khalifa's iconic design and unique engineering challenges have been extensively documented in a number of TV programmes. National Geographic dedicated an entire episode to it as part of its "Big, Bigger, Biggest" series while it was also featured on the Discovery Chanel's "Mega Builders" series.

Oh, and just in case this makes you want to plan your visit for New Year's time, a party of epic proportions is guaranteed at the Burj Khalifa as New Year's Eve celebrations attract over one million people here to watch the dazzling fireworks. Just imagine being there!

My tips for visiting

If you plan to make it to the observation decks of the Burj Khalifa, which is the most common way visitors get to experience its incredible heights and views, the best time pricewise (and crowdwise) are off-peak hours. With mornings and early afternoons also being the cheapest time to visit you might save a few pennies and enjoy the views more peacefully as this is also the time when less people visit, especially if it's during a weekday. Weekends are understandably more packed, so if you can avoid them, do.

Sights-wise, sunsets are the most spectacular natural phenomenon to be experienced while up there, and they do come at a price, literally, but they must be infinitely worth it. On my first visit I made it there mid-morning on a weekday and it was simply splendid. Next time I'll aim at catching a glimpse of the sunset and seeing for myself what the racket is all about.

For any other of the tower's attraction, whichever day or time of day you come is as good as any, unless you plan to make a special date out of it and make a dinner at At.Mosphere coincide with sunset, which must be even more special at this time. Or, perhaps if you want to enjoy the atmosphere at the Armani Prive nightclub, a weekend party might be your best time for visiting, where the action really gets going and more people make it to the party.

One more tip before we wrap it up, like I said earlier, for best enjoying the Dubai Fountain show, turn up in the evening when the show's colours can be better seen. It's also the time when the crowds come rushing to watch and might obstruct your view, so if you can make it there a while in advance and take your viewing spot before anyone else snatches you'll be rewarded. Alternatively, pay for a short sailing journey across the lake on one of the abras to coincide with a show and the view will be even better, closer and more spectacular. I did just that and highly recommend it.

Susana Corona

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Susana Corona

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