Scraping the Sky at the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The Burj Khalifa rises into the sky (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

The Burj Khalifa rises into the sky (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

I lean against the wall of silvered mirror tiles and watch as the doors close, then wait for that lurch of my stomach as the elevator begins its long journey. But surprisingly, it doesn’t come. It’s a smooth ride, the only indication that we are travelling swiftly upwards is the number counter on the wall. At 124, it stops, the doors open and I am standing atop the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • It’s the highest you’ll ever be short of mountaineering.
  • The views are fantastic.
  • Good for: Anyone visiting Dubai. it’s the high point (so to speak!)

About the Burj Khalifa

Completed in 2010, the Burj Khalifa is 828 meters (2717 feet) tall, far exceeding the previous world’s tallest towers, the CN Tower in Toronto (553 meters; 1800 feet) and the Taipei 101 (at a mere 508 meters; 1667 feet). The Burj dominates Dubai’s skyline, its long thin spire stretching up to the sky.

The Burj claims several records: the most stories (160), the highest occupied floor of a building, and the world’s tallest structure (beating a television mast in North Dakota, USA). It has 49 office floors, 1044 residential apartments and 57 lifts, with its the main service lift rising 504 meters (around 1500 feet). Plus four swimming pools, a private library and the Armani hotel.

Originally conceived as the Burj Dubai, the project ran into financial difficulties. The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stepped in to the tune of $25 billion dollars and rescued the project. In his honor, the name was changed to the Burj Khalifa.

The view across to the Gulf (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

The view across to the Gulf (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

At the Top of the Burj Khalifa

The observation deck gives 360 degree views over the city, desert and sea. I look down on the streets far below me; and yes, the taxicabs look like ants (cliche or not) as they crawl along the motorways. A heat haze obscures the view, it’s still impressive. Telescopes give a closer look at the world beneath. At the foot of the tower I can clearly see the outline of the fountain display which is a magnificent 900 feet long and rises to over 500 feet. The displays occur throughout the day and evening, when over 6000 lights illuminate the performance. There is an open air terrace where the air is pleasantly cooler than at ground level and you can watch the birds swoop beneath you.

How Safe is the Burj Khalifa?

The Burj’s safety features are state of the art. Every 20 to 30 stories, pressurized, air conditioned refuge areas offer compartments that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies from the rest of the tower. The building’s reinforced concrete is stronger than steel; all stairwells are surrounded in concrete. The director of projects, Greg Sang, said that a plane would not be able to slice through the building as they did at the World Trade Center in 2001. The building service and fireman’s elevator will be the world’s tallest service elevator, another record to add to the Burj’s impressive collection.

So far, the Burj Khalifa has withstood lightning strikes, an earthquake (whose epicenter was in Iran) and strong winds. Construction was begun in 2004 with around 12,000 migrant workers from the Indian sub-continent completing a new floor every three days. The building’s structural engineer, Bill Baker, said, ‘We weren’t sure how high we could go. It was a kind of exploration…a learning experience.’

Burj Khalifa attracts many visitors (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

Burj Khalifa attracts many visitors (photo credit: Ann Burnett 2014)

Back Down to Earth Again

It’s quiet at the top, away from the noise and hustle of downtown Dubai. I spent an hour just gazing: At the pale gold of the Arabian desert disappearing into the horizon; at the city; at the pattern of houses and streets broken by occasional patches of green or the blue of swimming pools; at the waters of the Gulf sparkling in sunshine that broke through the haze. When it was time to go, the elevator raced downward and tumbled me out at ground level into the buzz of the Mall of Dubai, and I made my way to the Metro station to travel back to my hotel. I craned my head to look out of the window at the Burj Khalifa one last time. I was there, at the top, I said to myself, at the top of the tallest building in the world, standing in the sky.

But others make the journey down in a different way!


  • Book your tickets before you go. It’s much cheaper that way.
  • Use the Metro to get there if you can. It’s cheap, fast, air-conditioned but can be busy. And watch out for women only compartments. The stop for the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall.
  • Take your time and enjoy the experience and the fountains display.
  • During Ramadan, the Burj does not open till later in the day.


  1. Yvonne Jack says

    A very interesting and informative read which paints a vivid picture. Dubai and the UAE is a changed place since I visited in 1978.


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