One of Dubai’s main attractions and currently the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa draws in hundreds of people daily to marvel at the views from its dizzying observation deck. But does it live up to the hype? Here’s everything you need to know before you plan a visit.

The Burj by numbers

As the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa boasts some pretty impressive numbers. It’s 828m tall and it took over 110,000 tonnes of concrete and 22 million man-hours to build. There are over 31,000 tonnes of steel rebar throughout its structure, which, if laid out end-to-end, would stretch a quarter of the way around the world.

Its exterior is clad with around 26,000 glass panels; these give it its mirror finish and are regularly polished by 36 brave window cleaners. Thanks to one of the world’s fastest elevators, you can also travel from the ground floor to level 124 in around a minute (that’s a speed of 10 metres per second).

14276052303_6531498f93_kImage by Gordon on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The essentials

There are three different observation levels open to the public. The first two are part of the misleadingly named At The Top, which includes floors 124 and 125 at 452m (not actually at the top, but just over half way up the building). Then there’s luxury lounge, SKY, on level 148, which sits at a height of 555m.

It costs 200 AED for access to At The Top during peak hours, and you can pretty much spend as long as you like up there. Aside from the height, the main difference between the two observation decks is that SKY tends to be quieter and has soft seating scattered throughout, should you need to sit down after peering over the edge. A ticket for SKY (which costs a princely 500 AED for just 30 minutes) will also get you into At The Top.

It’s advisable to book in advance to ensure you get the best time, and if you’re banking on seeing sunset, book a slot at least 90 minutes before to get the most out of it. There are also sunrise slots bookable on Friday and Saturday during winter.

8667329327_7c4ebd9458_kImage by Rob Young on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

What’s the visitor experience like?

As expected with any major attraction, there’s some queueing involved. You’ll queue to pick up your tickets, then again to get into the lift, but it’s fairly fast moving and there are occasional exhibits to keep you entertained throughout.

As one of the world’s fastest, the elevator to the 124th floor is somewhat disappointing. It takes just a minute to reach the observation deck but it’s so smooth you’d never know you were moving.

Level 124 has an indoor section – complete with a gift shop – for those a little too sheepish to head outside, and you can zoom in on the ground using cameras connected to the touchscreens dotted throughout.

On the outdoor deck, you’ll have to jostle a little for space to press your nose against the glass to peer over downtown Dubai. For an even more dizzying experience, don’t forget to look up to see the remaining 400-or-so metres soaring above you.

At The Top, Burj KhalifaImage by Guilhem Vellut on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

There’s an audio tour available, which details the engineering and architectural process, but ultimately the highlight is the astonishing view.

If you’ve invested in the SKY ticket, you’ll wait your turn in an exclusive lounge on the ground floor, with traditional Arabic hospitality of coffee and dates, before being escorted in a VIP elevator all the way to level 148. There are generally only around 20–30 people on this floor at any one time, making it a much more relaxed experience, but you only get around half an hour before you’ll have to descend to 125 to join the crowds.

So is it worth the trip?

If you’re a bucket list ticker then yes – the novelty of going up the world’s tallest building is probably worth the entry fee (though perhaps not all the way to level 148).

But while the panoramas are impressive, one of the best views in Dubai is of the Burj Khalifa itself, as it truly does tower above all the other skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road.

Where else can I go for a great view?

In a city of skyscrapers, Dubai isn’t short of epic vistas. There’s a particularly impressive view of some of the Sheikh Zayed Road’s best architecture from the Level 43 at Four Points by Sheraton, and the Taj Hotel’s Treehouse has a brilliant view of the Burj Khalifa.

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