Construction on the Burj Khalifa started 2004, completed in 2009, and the building had an official launch ceremony in January of 2010. As the tallest building in the world at 2722 feet to the tip it beats Shanghai Tower’s 2073 feet by 649 feet. We went up Shanghai Tower when we disembarked the Holland America Westerdam there on a cruise from Vancouver to Shanghai. It was the world’s second tallest building at the time, but has recently been passed by Malasia’s Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur at 2227 feet. We visited the Burj Kalifa after disembarking MSC Lirica in Dubai from a cruise that started in Trieste, Italy.
As the tallest man-made structure in the world it holds a number of world records – tallest building, tallest free-standing structure, most stories (163), highest occupied floor, highest outdoor observation deck, elevator with longest travel distance, and tallest service elevator. The Burj Khalifa is currently still hanging onto its title as the tallest building in the world. There is one planned to be taller under construction in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia called the Jeddah Tower with a proposed height of 3281 feet (one kilometer). The completion date for this tower is unknown.
The Burj Khalifa houses the Armani Hotel and residences as well as 900 luxury apartments. Staying in the Armani Hotel doesn’t get you very high up the tower though since it starts at the bottom and has rooms on the 1st to 8th floors. There are also some hotel rooms on the 38th and 39th floors so the highest level with hotel rooms is on the 39th floor.
The 144 Armani residences are 1-2 bedroom suites from level 9-16 with fountain views. Both the Armani Hotel and residences were designed by Giorgio Armani. The other residential tower runs from the 19th to 108th stories. Residences there range from studios to 1-4 bedroom apartments to a 5 bedroom penthouse.
Visiting the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is at the Dubai Mall. Ticket counters and meeting points for tours are in the mall. There’s also luggage storage right by that ticket counter as well as elsewhere in the mall. It’s not cheap to go up the tower, but it’s the things you don’t do that you regret and it would cost a whole lot more to go back there again and do it later if you skip it for the price and then go home wishing you had done it. The regular tickets take you to levels 124 and 125. For an extra charge you can get the premium ticket up to Sky Level on the 148th floor (555 meters). It’s well worth the money to spend the extra for the premium ticket, though it’s still not the top of the tower.
The highest the public can get is by booking a meal at a lounge on levels 152-154. It’s 585 meters at the top level of the lounge with an outdoor terrace at 575 meters, so still not all the way to the top of this 163-story building. The lounge offers 3 options with afternoon high tea, dinner at sundown, or evening cocktails.
What’s up higher than the lounge and why can’t people go all the way to the top? Levels 160-163 are for mechanical purposes. Levels 156-159 are used for communication and broadcast. Other than the lounge the uppermost levels are corporate suites mainly used by private companies.
The regular At the Top ticket to levels 124 & 125 gives you an hour and a half to stay in the tower. The premium one isn’t timed and with it you can go up anywhere from an hour before to an hour after the booked time.
Sunset is the most popular time so for sunset visits it’s recommended to book in advance as there is a limit to the amount of people allowed up in the tower at any given time.
Sometimes there can be quite a line to get up the tower. Whether you have the premium ticket or just the one that goes to the 124th & 125th floors, all visitors start out in the same elevators. With the sky level ticket to floor 148 you get a VIP sticker and get to bypass the line of people with a basic ticket waiting for the elevator going up. The first elevator takes just 1 minute to go 124 floors, the fastest elevator in the world. For premium ticket holders, from that floor you board another elevator which goes up the remaining 24 floors in 15 seconds.
As people leave the elevator on the 148th floor they step into a fancy lounge and are offered tiny cups of tea and little sweets, which included dates, macaroons, and other cookies during our visit. There’s several chairs next to a view window and some couches in an inner room open to the view window.
Hallways lead to other view windows, and a walk through the little gift shop leads to an outdoor balcony where there are slits between the glass panels big enough to fit a phone or small camera through in order to take photos that are not done through glass.
We were originally told that we could stay on that level for half an hour and then proceed down to levels 124 and 125 where we could stay as long as we liked. Once we were up there they said we could stay longer so we stayed long enough to get some sunset photos before going down to the next level while there was still some color in the sky.
Up on level 148 once you stop wandering around and sit in the chairs by the window with little tables, or the couches in the inner room, which also have tables, the guys working there come around offering coffee or tea. When they deliver it they sometimes bring a little plate of the sweets along as well. You can have as much as you like and it is all included in the ticket, no extra charge. Once you go down to the lower levels snacks and drinks cost money, and once you’ve gone down you can’t go back up.
Level 125 has view windows pretty much all the way around, some swinging pod chairs, and a video floor you can walk around on that simulates looking down to the ground through a glass floor.
Periodically the video floor makes loud cracking sounds and gives the appearance of cracking glass. There’s also a gift shop and a virtual reality climb the spire experience on that floor. This floor had wings painted on a window where people pose for photos between the wings making it look like they are theirs.
All of the levels have some telescope things with a big video screen where you can choose actual camera or night or day views, and little labels pop up to tell you what you are looking at. All the ones on level 148 worked fine, but some of the ones on the lower floors had issues when we were there.
There’s a stairway from level 125 down to level 124, which has an outdoor balcony bigger than the one on level 148. It has the same spacing between glass panels for unobstructed photos. It also has a gift shop and like the other levels photographers who want to take your photo so they can try to sell the pictures to you when you go back down. There’s a snack shack there too, and wings painted on windows for more soaring over Dubai photos.
Back on ground level you exit through … you guessed it – yet another gift shop. Like just about all attractions everywhere this one exits through a gift shop. It also has hallways leading back to Dubai Mall that have various interesting displays about the Burj Khalifa. When in Dubai it’s definitely worth making a trip to the top. While looking out the window up there I couldn’t help but hear the line from a song that goes “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation” in my head.
Unfortunately it was something of a foggy day when we were up there, though it could have been worse. Rain was dumping in buckets that morning before we left the ship, and in the Uber from the port to the mall we were driving through roads that looked more like rivers. It doesn’t rain often in Dubai so they don’t have drainage in their infrastructure to handle it. It rained some our first day there as well. The rain cleared off and the sun came out before the morning was over, but the fog only cleared enough for tower views of the immediate area rather than the distant views the tower would offer on a clearer day. We didn’t have the option of waiting for better weather though since we had a flight out late that night. Even with the limited view we could see a lot and were very glad we splurged the extra money for the premium ticket.
There’s a parklike area next to the mall and in front of the Burj Kalifa. A good section of it is filled with water and a fountain. There are fountain shows periodically throughout the day.
After dark the Burj Kalifa puts on a light show just before the fountain show, and the fountain has lights too.