He stood still, focused at the spectacular cityscape that played out below us, like a movie scene. Polished gray roads snaked their way between mighty concrete skyscrapers, narrow canals, a complex of tiny sand-colored structures, occasional swathes of green, vast sandy deserted patches, and a futuristic skyscraper that stood imposingly at the edge of a bright turquoise lake.
A few seconds later, I heard him say “Wow”, but even the choicest of words would have been just as inadequate to describe the view from At The Top, Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made structure.
My dad and I were standing in the observation deck on the 124th level of the Burj Khalifa. The structure is the ultimate iconic landmark in Dubai, a city that leaves no stone unturned when transforming its wildest imaginations into tangible realities. Just over an hour ago, he had looked very confused about why I needed to put him through the ordeal of shopping with me in the Dubai Mall, not expecting to be surprised by a visit to At The Top, Burj Khalifa.
As the surprise unfolded a few minutes ago, we’d stepped into the 65-meter-long high-speed elevator traveling at 10 meters per second, something of an experience in itself, with dancing psychedelic blue lights and a catchy Arabic tune. This was his first visit to the Burj Khalifa, and the dramatic views formed the perfect backdrop as he reflected upon Dubai’s transformation since the early 1970s, when he first moved to the city.
Flanked by Dubai’s tallest and most beautiful skyscrapers, the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road, looked even more impressive from high up. The network of flyovers running above and below each other, intersecting and connecting to parallel roads looked like an artistic design of meticulously planned swirling patterns.
Pointing the viewing telescope towards the area, he recounted his early years in the city, when the World Trade Center was the only major building on the then narrow road that was only surrounded by sand on both sides. “If you had to go to Abu Dhabi, you’d get into a taxi that would take you for 10 Dirhams, and you’d always see camels on the way”, he said.
Just below us, The Address Downtown Dubai stood out, by the edge of the man-made lake that’s home to the dancing Dubai Fountain. Next to it, the new heritage-style architecture of the Souk Al Bahar and the rest of Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard appeared like little castles of sand, right out of an Arabian fairytale. My dad remarked about how many water bodies now appeared in the landscape of the city, something that was unthinkable in the old days.
Stepping into the indoor section of the observation deck, we continued to walk the perimeter, stopping at viewpoints along the glass walls. The telescopes allowed a closer ‘live’ look at the different neighborhoods of the city. The residential area of Jumeirah, looked well organized, with its low villas arranged in neat rows with patches of trees. In the distance, at the edge of Jumeirah Beach, a very subtle shift in the shade of blue separated the Arabian Sea from the sky.
He pointed out to Safa Park, one of the oldest green spaces in the city opened in 1975, where we’d spent many weekends enjoying family picnic lunches. Back then, the area was considered to be on the outskirts of the main city with the majority of people living in Bur Dubai, Jumeirah and Deira. Indians were among the first people to move to the city for work, some of them resident in Dubai even before India gained independence from British colonial rule, resulting in a large number of shops run by them in areas such as Bur Dubai and Deira, selling everything from textiles and spices to groceries. Even today, a majority of residents living in the area are from the Indian subcontinent.
We climbed up the stairway to the 125th level, complimentary with our tour of the 124th level. Just by the entrance, on the floor was a visual display of a bird’s eye view of the city, and all around were floor-to-ceiling glass walls just like the observation deck.
“Back then, it was hard to imagine that the city could ever look like this”, he remarked as we admired the ceiling of bold star patterns and incredible mellow lighting, “but His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a true visionary, a leader who has transformed this city with humble beginnings into a force to be reckoned with.”
His sense of admiration is justified; few cities in the world can match up to the quality of life, impressive infrastructure and sense of security that Dubai offers. To think that less than fifty years ago, the city’s landmass consisted of several areas of barren desert land, fishing and pearl diving were the prime occupations, and the currency used was the Indian rupee, lends important perspective to the pace of development in Dubai and its subsequent rise as a major metropolis. Fuelled by the creativity, innovation and ambition of a young population, Dubai shows no sign of losing its momentum.
The most precious jewel in the city’s skyline isn’t just another record holding architectural feat, it’s also ultimate proof that the possibilities are only as limited as our own imagination. And it isn’t just the Emiratis or Arabs who feel a sense of pride as they catch a glimpse of the Burj Khalifa, driving to work, but also long time residents who’ve witnessed the transformation of Dubai.
About the Burj Khalifa
At over 2,716.5 feet and 160 stories, the Burj Khalifa holds a number of records including the tallest building in the world, tallest freestanding structure in the world and highest number of stories in the world. Construction began in January 2004 and was completed in September 2009.
Plan Your Visit To At The Top Burj Khalifa
Separate tickets are available for admission to each of the observation decks- At The Top, Burj Khalifa on the 124th level and At The Top, Burj Khalifa SKY on the 148th level. Level 125 offers a spacious deck with 360-degree views of the city and A Falcon’s Eye View Experience and is included in the SKY experience. When I visited, complimentary admission was also offered to the visitors on the 124th level.
- Booking in advance is recommended, as fast-track tickets are considerably more expensive. Information about tickets and pricing is available here.
- Audio guides are available in various languages.
- Complimentary Wi-Fi is available during the tour.
- The tours are wheelchair accessible.
Our visit to At The Top, Burj Khalifa was sponsored by Tinggly, a great company that I share an Ambassador relationship with. Tinggly is all about gifting amazing travel experiences rather than things, a philosophy I deeply believe in. They offer a host of experiences all over the world, from snorkeling in Greece to cruising the Mekong River in Vietnam and gift recipients can choose to redeem their vouchers within the next two years.
I’d like to thank them for helping me gift this unique experience to my dad, who’d never been to the Burj Khalifa, even after having lived in Dubai for most of his life. The wonder in his eyes at seeing his beloved city from the observation deck was priceless and exactly the kind of gift I like to give my loved ones. All opinions in this post are independent.
Here’s my favorite Instagram shot from our visit:
If you like this post, please share it to Pinterest by pinning the image below:
For general information to help you plan your trip to the UAE or Dubai in particular, including money-saving advice and recommendations for off-the-beaten-path day trips from Dubai, culture in Abu Dhabi, cool hotels, or popular places of interest such as the Dubai Miracle Garden, check out my UAE Travel Blog.
More resources to help plan and book your trip
Book a private transfer with Welcome Pickups
Book tours and day trips with Get Your Guide
Browse flights on Skyscanner
World Nomads is my trusted travel insurance provider
For digital nomads, SafetyWing Insurance is currently the best option