Dubai in and of itself is an engineering wonder, with man-made islands in the shape of the world, giant hotels built on those man-made islands, and a series of metal and glass mirages in the form of multiple city centers – all in the middle of the desert.
But, the Burj Khalifa towers stand above all else, not only in Dubai, but in the world. It is the tallest building in the world, by a lot. I had seen so many documentaries on the building of the Burj Khalifa, but seeing it in the flesh, so to speak, was something remarkable, like seeing most of Dubai. And, we were seeing Dubai at the top of the Burj Khalifa.
Burj, means tower in Arabic, and Khalifa, is the the leader of the United Arab Emirates. He is actually the President and ruler of Abu Dubai, the Emirate just to the south of Dubai. So, the building is named after him. The Burj has over 200 floors. The owner and architect have kept the exact number a secret so that no one really knows the exact number. That’s so Dubai. People sometimes stand outside and try to count, but it is virtually impossible, as people always get lost somewhere up the tower.
Regardless of the number of floors, the Burj Khalifa towers at over 828 meters, whereas the Petronas towers are 452 meters, and the Sears Tower (ok, Willis Tower) is a measly 442 meters. In a city of superlatives, the Burj Khalifa tops all other superlatives. It is the tallest building, the tallest free standing building, the most number of stories in the world, the highest occupied floor, the highest observation deck, the elevator with the longest travel distance, and the tallest service elevator in the world. I am sure there are others I am missing.
After making our way through the visitor center and security, we followed a slow moving people mover past a series of moving images of typical Emerati culture, including a guy with a falcon, of course. We continued through finely decorated hallways and escalators until we reached the elevator waiting room, with free wifi and tweet encouragement from the folks behind At The Top of the Burj Khalifa. Once inside the elevator, we moved at a brisk pace, as my ears popped, up to the 124th floor.
The elevator doors opened indoors, and a quick few steps to the revolving door led us to the observation deck. At least, it should have been quick, but apparently the people who rode the elevator with us had no idea how to use a revolving door, so three of them entered together and got stuck until I pushed the door to help them out. What a way to enter the tallest observation deck in the world.
The view around the Burj was breathtaking, and beige. Although there were pockets of green, and the blue of both pools and the Persian Gulf (called the Arabian Gulf by the Emerati), the over all feeling was of beige. Dust, desert. And bright. We had both broken our sunglasses before arriving in Dubai and had yet to replace them, meaning, most of our photos at the Burj have a pained expression.
Despite the fact that I was 452 meter high, on the observation deck of the tallest building in the world, in the middle of the desert, and under the glare of late morning sun, without sunglasses, I was pretty impressed. It was intriguing to watch the skyscrapers in the distance, the gulf behind, and the snarls of traffic below.
It did not take long to make our way around the outdoor observation deck, which covers approximately a quarter of the observation deck. We made our way back inside, away from the glaring sun, and experienced the view on the other sides. We bypassed the gift shop, although the stuffed pink camel, which said Burj Khalifa on the outside, was tempting. We rode the elevator back down, with ears popping once again along the way.
Then, the best part of my day as we exited the visitors’ center of At the Top of Burj Khalifa. Another group of tourists had no idea how to use the revolving doors. They just stood there, stuck, in the door. Another group of three, staring helplessly like hamsters in a cage. They expected the door to be automatic and it never occurred to them to push it themselves. Finally, I pushed it for them and gave them their freedom. The security guard on the other end was trying not to laugh, until I gave him a good giggle, along with a roll of my eyes, and then he started cracking up. I am sure he sees people all the time who are unable to extricate themselves from the simple and common big city doorway at the base of the engineering marvel that is the Burj Khalifa.
Looking for food recommendations in Dubai? Check out this guide to the best Indian restaurants in Dubai.
Dubai Tourism hosted us for our tour of Dubai, but all of my opinions are my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.