You might know Burj Khalifa to be the tallest building in the world, standing at 828 metres and over 160 floors, but its history actually dates back only to a decade. Compare it to Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower that opened to the public in 1889, or Delhi’s Qutub Minar, which was built in 1193, Burj Khalifa has some catching up to do in building years.
The Taipei 101 in China, at 508 metres was the tallest building in the world, till 2010 rolled in. Named for Abu Dhabi’s ruler and president of the United Arab Emirates, baby Burj is seven years old this year.
Adrian Smith, the man behind Willis Tower in Chicago and One World Center in New York City, designed Dubai’s iconic building, with a vision for it to embody elements of Islamic architecture like minarets and onion domes. Since the Burj is also home to the world’s tallest mosque, its sleek modern lines also incorporates the necessary cultural references.
Before you start squinting to spot the traditional minaret in the skyscraper (you won’t find it), know that there is a particular desert flower that played an important role in Smith’s sketches. When seen from a distance, Burj Khalifa has delicate, bundled and tapering visuals similar to that of the Hymenocallis flower found in the Arabian desert. This flower’s abstract yet timid visual aesthetic is echoed in the mega-tall skyscraper.
Burj Khalifa’s construction started in 2004, and officially opened its doors on January 6 2010. Today, this architectural marvel proudly stands in the heart of Downtown Dubai (and on all our Instagram feeds).
What’s in it?
While it’s fascinating to look at, Burj Khalifa is not just a tourist hotspot. It is also a residential and commercial building. It contains a total of 57 elevators and eight escalators. The first 15 floors are occupied by the Armani Hotel, which offers 304 rooms and suites, a luxurious spa, two world-class restaurants and a nightclub. Designed by Giorgio Armani, this is only one of his two namesake properties (the other one is in Milan).
Make yourself at home
If after visiting you’re convinced to move in, you can. The Residence in Burj has 900 flats, from levels 19 to 108. All you need is about 70 crores to spare, and you can snag yourself a swany 1BHK in Dubai’s most coveted address. While your home may or may not include a pool, you can head to the the 43rd and 76th floors to use their two swimming pools – indoor and outdoor, whichever you fancy.
Your apartment key at the Burj also gets you direct (and secret) access to The Dubai Mall. Who wants to be behind those slow walkers anyway?
That’s not the only benefit you get when you have your deliveries sent to Burj Khalifa – all homeowners have free access to the Armani hotel spa, and each floor’s world-class gym facilities. Yup, each floor here has a yoga room, a massage room and a fully equipped gym. It’s your fitness tracker’s dream come true.
The remaining floors are all corporate offices, except for the observation decks on levels 122, 123, 124 and 148. If the view from 452m above sea level on level 124 doesn’t impress you, then head up to the SKY level at 555m on the 148th floor, which will offer the same views, but with added vertigo (#sorrynotsorry). On a clear day visitors can view the shores in the distance, thanks to At The Top’s electronic telescope.
The 122nd floor is also home to the world’s highest-altitude restaurant – At.mosphere. If that doesn’t thrill you, know that they serve some of the best high tea in the city. Expect to fork out Dhs490 per person for a window table, scones and cucumber sandwiches. How does the altitude alter the taste of your food? It doesn’t. The kitchen alters its produce and temperatures to make every dirham worth it. The kitchen runs on electricity rather than gas, and all the succulent meat is cooked in an old-fashioned Spanish charcoal oven. All the fruits and vegetables are sourced from an organic farm in Australia. While you may have to dip into your savings to dine here, it’s worth it for a special event (a proposal, perhaps?).
If clotted cream and afternoon tea doesn’t get you going, try dinner. The minimum-spend for an a la carte dinner is Dhs320 per person (with a window table), while the breakfast package is for Dhs325 per person. Book in advance if you’re going, and know that the poached eggs on English muffins makes it worth waking up at 8 am.
What you can do
Apart from taking a hundred selfies (we recommend taking a selfie stick along if you want the whole panorama view), why not take back a mini Burj for your grandmother? The At the Top Souvenirs Shop has everything from t-shirts to Swarovski crystal Burj Khalifa, there’s something for every budget in here.
If you’re not interested in the photos, the fancy meal or a camel plush toy from the souvenir shop, then just head to the top of the building to experience the high speed lift. It’s the world’s third fastest elevator, with a speed of 36km/hour. All elevators in the building are double-decker and have a capacity of 12 to 14 persons per cabin. It might be a good (albeit temporary) answer to the questions Facebook has about what you’re doing, where you are, and why you haven’t updated your status yet.
Light speed ahead
The amazing feat of engineering and architecture that this building embodies needs to be appreciated from the outside too. There is a nightly LED display on the building will sure to make your jaws drop. This spectacular night show changes on a fortnightly basis, or when the city observes its annual design and art week. They once collaborated with Tiffany jewels and Cartier, so if you’re lucky, you might just be privy to a one-night-only special LED collaborative show.
For the not-so-lucky folks, the regular five-minute LED show happens on the hour every hour. Head down to the outside of The Dubai Mall to watch the magic unfold after the sun goes down.
Best time to go
At The Top is the most crowded during sunset and twilight hours. We recommend booking your tickets in advance for an hour before sunset, and make sure you get there in time so you can bypass the long queues for the elevators. Another bonus for going later in the day is being able to watch the Dubai Fountains from the observation deck. You get a bird’s eye view, every half hour, from 6 pm onwards. You won’t be able to hear the musical fountains from up here (they have a Michael Jackson and a Dhoom Tana from Om Shanti Om version for the Bollywood obsessed), but we suggest you stay up in the clouds for a few more minutes and watch the glittering skyline at twilight.
If you’re a morning person, Burj Khalifa has recently started sunrise sessions from At the Top from 5.30 am, with viewings every 30 minutes till 8 am.
You can also watch a compilation of all the record-breaking events that have taken place in the building and see how the Hollywood star Tom Cruise climbed the building during the filming of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The café here opens at 5.30 am too, so you’ll get your morning caffeine fix.
There is no time limit for how long you can stay at the top of the building, so don’t worry about rushing down. Give yourself about two hours for the entire tour.
Pro tip: Buy your tickets online, they’re significantly more economical than buying it at the door.
There are audio-guided tours available to rent At the Top in English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and German.
If you’re traveling with children between the age of 8-12, there’s a special children’s audio tour hosted on level 124 as well.