About a year ago, I was in Dubai for a workshop, and decided to go see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (830 meters).
Getting there involved taking Dubai’s spotlessly clean and well-run metro to the Dubai Mall: the largest mall in the world.
Trekking across the mall to the entrance, I took one look at the prices and … walked away again … back across the mall to the metro station, back to my hotel. I booked my 10,000 steps that day in that one expedition.
If you want to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, you’ll have to pay at least 125 AED, which is €30 or US$34. At peak times (the couple of hours around sunset) it costs AED200 (€49 or $54).
And when I say go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, I don’t really mean the top. I mean the 124th and 125th floor. To reach the 148th floor, it’ll cost you at least AED350. That’s €85 or $95!
Not visiting Burj Khalifa
Ever since that day I’ve regretted that I didn’t do it. The price is — pun intended — over the top. But it’s one of those things one almost has to do in Dubai.
So when I was invited to lead a workshop in Dubai again this year, I resolved to bite the bullet and pay the admission price. And if I was going to pay so much anyway, why not get the full deluxe treatment and visit the very top?
Visiting Burj Khalifa, Take 2
A fellow workshop leader and I set out in the morning to the metro and the long walk to and through the mall again, arriving at the entrance to the Burj Khalifa.
First we had to deal with a Groupon deal gone wrong. My friend had bought discounted tickets through them. Groupon had deducted the price from her credit card and then, for some reason, cancelled the order but not refunded the money. And they hadn’t let her know about any of it, so it took us by surprise at the desk. In a long phone conversation with Groupon’s customer service, she was assured that the money would eventually be returned, but that didn’t help us at that moment. I’m sure my friend wrote a very angry letter of complaint later.
In the meantime, there we were, holding vouchers that turned out to be worthless. We decided to go ahead anyway: we’d been looking forward to this! But for reasons that were not clear to me, we had to pay the peak-time price: 500AED (€121 or $136).
The beauty of a credit card is you don’t actually see the money changing hands. If we had, I’m not sure I would have been able to part with 121 euros just to ride an elevator to the top of a building, even if it is the tallest in the world.
Visiting Burj Khalifa: “At the Top SKY”
The Burj Khalifa offers two sorts of visitor experiences. “At the Top” includes a trip to the 124th and 125th floors (not actually the top). You can admire the view on all sides of the building, including from a large outdoor space.
“At the Top SKY” takes you to the 148th floor (still not actually the top, but close!). It includes some extra flourishes:
- “Fast track access” didn’t feel particularly fast when we went, but we waited with a group of perhaps 20 people on comfortable seats. Waiters offered us Arabic coffee and an assortment of Arabic sweets and dates.
- The Burj Khalifa employees also handed each of us, for some unexplained reason, a pair of men’s swimming trunks. What that has to do with the Burj Khalifa? No idea. But the fact that they seemed like good quality (Burj Khalifa brand? Really?) took a bit of the sting out of what I’d just paid for the experience.
- After a short wait, an employee led us down a series of halls, stopping to explain a few facts about the building as he went. We then stood and watched a large screen showing a clip about the filming of Mission Impossible 4, in which Tom Cruise dangled dangerously from the Burj Khalifa in one sequence. The video below is more or less the same:
- Next we zipped up in a dark elevator, images flickering on the walls, including readings of how many meters we’d risen. With so many people crammed in there, I couldn’t really see the images well. Fortunately, it went very quickly — ears popping — and we soon arrived at the 125th floor.
- Another employee ushered us out of the elevator and into a cordoned space to wait for the next elevator, which arrived almost immediately. This elevator whisked us to the 148th floor (555 meters high).
- Emerging into a large, low-ceilinged, minimally-furnished space, a waiter offered each of us a glass of juice. Another offered small sweets from a tray.
- We were allowed up to 45 minutes on the 148th floor, where there were seats and sofas so we could sit and enjoy our juice and the view at our leisure.
- When we had seen enough of the 148th floor, we were free to join the hoi-polloi on the 124th and 125th floors, with no time limit.
Visiting Burj Khalifa’s 148th floor
I have to admit that while I still wonder if this was a waste of money, the views were pretty mind-boggling. After all, Dubai has lots of skyscrapers, and we could look down on them from here. My friend and I circled the 148th floor (not a very big floor), snapping pictures from every vantage point, as did all of the other tourists in our group. A small outdoor viewing platform allowed us to get a relatively unencumbered view too.
As is often the case in Dubai, the sky was hazy. That meant we couldn’t see very far, despite how high we were. We could make out the ocean, and, dimly, a few of the artificial islands along Dubai’s coast.
Straight below us, an artificially blue artificial lake blazed in the sun. Every evening an ornate multi-colored water and light show takes place down there. Next to it, the enormous sprawl of the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world.
And all around in the middle distance, a scattering of skyscrapers, many completed, many still under construction. Between them on the ground: many vacant, sandy lots, but also highways lined with carefully-tended, colorfully landscaped strips of green and bright flowers.
It all accentuated, to me, the generally artificial feel of Dubai. It is a city in a desert, yet tries its best to be something else: Las Vegas, perhaps (without the gambling), with skyscrapers like Manhattan, only more spread out.
Visiting Burj Khalifa: the 125th floor
Down in the economy section, visitors have more room and less special treatment. The view, of course, is the same: not much difference at such a height between levels 148 and 125. We had to contend with more people, though, most of whom were busy posing for selfies.
While the 125th floor was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, we could also go downstairs and outside to a large viewing platform below. Unfortunately this was also lined with large plate glass sheets. While this is certainly necessary to avoid anyone falling, either accidentally or on purpose, it made it hard to get good photos. Small opening in each section of glass did allow my compact camera’s lens to get a glass-free view.
The tallest building?
The Burj Khalifa won’t be the tallest building for long. Construction has already started on The Tower at Dubai Creek, expected to be completed in 2020, and topping a kilometer high.
When that happens, it has occurred to me, the entrance price for visiting Burj Khalifa is likely to drop, since it won’t be the tallest anymore. You’ll be able to see the Tower at Dubai Creek from it too. On the other hand, the design of the Burj Khalifa itself is very elegant. I would enjoy seeing it from the observation decks that the Tower at Dubai Creek will offer.
Will I be willing to pay the price for either one again? Probably not, unless the competition brings the prices down.
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