Your ears pop. A lot. That isn't surprising, because you're going up higher than any building in the world so far. You're also moving vertically at an impressive 33ft/10m per second, aboard one of the fastest elevators in the world.
And then you get to sky lounge, a lounge and observation deck all the way up at floor 148. Amazingly, this isn't even the top floor. The view is cool and all, but then you see the revolving door. There's a viewing platform outside.
Dry, hot, desert air sucks the moisture from your skin faster than you can sweat, but the light breeze at 1,821ft/555m is a welcome improvement to the sweltering, oppressive heat on the ground. A sign says not to stick anything in between the gaps in the safety windows, and yet... everyone does. How else do you get the best photos?
This is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and it's an adventure in itself. Here's what it's like to visit.
Rising from the desert
It's a long walk. Fortunately, all inside. If you're like most people who visit Dubai, you don't rent a car. Sure you can, the roads downtown are immaculate, but it's a lot easier just to take the Metro (depending where you're staying, of course). The walk from the Metro station to the Dubai Mall (and the tourist entrance to the tower), takes about 10 minutes. It's half a mile (820m), all on enclosed walkways, mostly with moving sidewalks/travelators. Everything in Dubai is designed to shield you from the heat.
Walking through the Dubai Mall is a trip. It doesn't seem that big. I walked around for a whole day and was unimpressed... until I looked at a map. I had barely covered a quarter of it. Due to its design I hadn't even noticed the rest. What I thought was the end was just a right turn. The mall keeps going and going and going. There's even an entire aquarium and a skating rink (the nearby Mall of the Emirates is the one with the indoor ski slope).
Next to one of the food courts on the ground floor is the entrance to the Burj Khalifa. At least, the one for us tourists. When I was there it seemed like there were still tickets available for that day. However, I recommend booking in advance, especially if you want to see sunset.
There are two main tickets available. The cheapest option (though still not cheap, nothing in Dubai is), gets you to the 125th floor. This is a big space with lots of people. I splurged and got the pass to go all the way up to the sky lounge on 148. I rarely advise paying extra for things, but in this case, it was totally worth it. Unlike the upper floor access on the Tokyo Skytree, Burj's sky lounge is a noticeable increase in height (and if you're going to Dubai, why not splurge?).
The lounge is quite chill, and not nearly as crowded as the 125th and 124th floors. This is partly due to the time limit. The ticket says you only have access for 2 hours. I may have stayed longer. There's no one checking tickets once you're in the lounge.
So I saw sunset (which was a bit of a disappointment, very hazy), and then I got to see the city at night. Now THAT was incredible.
During the day, being so high up, it's like you're towering over a model playset of a city. At night, you enter some kind of sci-fi universe with lights and lines, stuck between the black of the sand and the back of the sea. Stunning.
I finally worked my way back down, stopping briefly at 124/125 to check it out, and then all the way back down to the ground.
Outside, the nightly fountain show entertains every 30 minutes. Unexpectedly, the entire Burj Khalifa lights up with 70,000 LEDS. The largest screen in the world. An epic sight on an epic sight.
I love superlatives. The tallest this, the biggest that. While Dubai itself is way too similar to Las Vegas for my tastes, the Burj Khalifa was a fantastic day well spent.
Unfortunately, nothing in Dubai is cheap. To get up to the 125th floor, during peak hours, is 200 AED if you book in advance, 300 if you buy for that day ($55-$82) for adults. For the 148th floor, it's 500 AED ($136) and you have to book in advance. It's cheaper at night, though, and at night was when I thought it looked the coolest. But then, I'm a sci-fi nerd.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.