Dubai may be an international playground for global superstars, but no one can eclipse the biggest star of all, the Burj Khalifa.
Located in thriving downtown Dubai, the needle-shaped super scraper takes center stage in the famed skyline with millions of visitors and VIPs flocking each year to arguably the most prestigious address in the world.
The tallest manmade structure is the ultimate symbol of glitz, glamor and the over-the-top excess for which the city is known.
The Burj by numbers
Soaring over the city at an impressive 2,716 feet (828 meters) and boasting 200 stories (160 habitable), the $1.5 billion Burj Khalifa project was unveiled by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in January 2010.
At the peak of construction, more than 12,000 international workers were on site per day logging a collective 22 million man-hours during the six years it took to complete.
The Burj Khalifa is twice the height of New York’s Empire State Building and three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
It even surpassed Taiwan’s Taipei 101, which at 1,667 feet (508m) had held the world title since it opened in 2004. Laid end to end, the Burj Khalifa’s pieces would stretch over a quarter of the way around the world.
Not content with being the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa has also snagged a clutch of other bragging rights. It also holds the following records:
– Tallest freestanding structure in the world
– Highest number of stories in the world
– Highest occupied floor in the world
– Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
– Elevator with longest travel distance in the world
– Tallest service elevator in the world
– World’s highest swimming pool in a building (on Level 76)
The man behind the Burj
The Burj’s appearance is based on a flower called the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis), which is native to southern states of America, South America and Mexico.
US architect Adrian Smith, who was involved in the design while a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), has also contributed to a plethora of notable buildings including the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which at 3,280 feet is projected to surpass the Burj in height, on its completion in 2020.
The Dubai tower’s name was chosen at the last minute.
What was initially called the Burj Dubai was renamed Burj Khalifa to honor the president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who assisted with the funds to create the billion-dollar iconic showpiece.
Burj is the Arabic word for tower.
He’s the action hero who famously does his own stunts, but Tom Cruise scaled new heights when he filmed scenes for “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” on top of the Burj Khalifa in November 2010.
The adrenaline junkie was filmed leaping out of a window before scrambling up the vertiginous walls in one of his most death-defying stunts.
Since then, a host of VIPs have made a beeline for the acclaimed attraction, including US singer Mariah Carey, supermodel Gigi Hadid and soccer star David Beckham.
The suite life
Opening its doors with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 2010, the Armani Hotel Dubai in the Burj offers well-heeled visitors the chance to check in to the famous address.
The world’s first hotel to be designed by Italian fashion legend Giorgio Armani features his signature minimalist style with muted gray interiors, sumptuous fabrics and Japanese wooden floors.
All 160 rooms and suites occupy the entire 39th floor with each decorated with bespoke furnishings and state-of-the-art mod cons controlled by iPads.
Every guest has a VIP welcome and is assigned a personal butler on arrival. There are other touches, such as individually designed spa treatments, fluffy monogrammed robes and Armani toiletries.
For a more permanent stay, the Armani Residences, with 144 plush suites on Levels 9-16, all feature the same distinctive style of the hotel with access to the carefully curated collection of shops discretely located at lobby level.
The hotel is also home to a host of unique dining experiences spanning Italian, Japanese, India, European and Mediterranean food.
The signature eatery Armani/Ristorante is great for authentic Italian fare with a modern twist – especially its salt-crusted cod, which never fails to wow diners. Room rates start from US$625
Armani Hotel Dubai; +971 4888 3888.
Views from the top
With breathtaking views of the city skyline, At The Top, which spreads across Levels 148, 124 and 125, gives exclusive access to the highest outdoor observatory in the world.
Ticket prices vary depending on which observation deck you choose and the time of day you’d like to visit. You should try to book in advance to avoid the queues and save money. Same-day tickets bought on site are more expensive.
Access to the decks is located at the lower level of the Dubai Mall and, while great views are guaranteed throughout the day, most people agree the best time to visit is just before sunset.
The average time needed to enjoy At The Top is about 90 minutes. It’s child-friendly and wheelchair accessible. Plus, there’s complimentary Wi-Fi access throughout the attraction.
Admission is approximately $35 per adult and $25 for children ages 4 to 11.
Dining in the sky
Those in the know book a table at At.Mosphere on Level 122 for picture-perfect views, with a futuristic elevator transporting guests to the fine-dining restaurant in fewer than 45 seconds.
And the world’s highest skyscraper restaurant doesn’t disappoint with ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular vistas, plush leather seats and pristine white tablecloths.
It’s haute cuisine at its best, but while a decadent dinner comes with the price tag to match, breakfast and high tea are more purse-friendly options offering an indulgent six-course experience and freshly baked scones and gourmet sandwiches respectively.
At.mosphere Burj Khalifa; +971 4888 3828
Home is where the Burj is
The Residence in Burj Khalifa is where the affluent tenants of 900 elegant and sought-after apartments (one, two, three and four-bedroom) call home.
Located on Levels 19 to 108, living in Dubai’s most prestigious address undoubtedly comes with its perks such as having front-row seats to the Dubai Fountain spectacle and the luxury of living on the doorstep of the Dubai Mall, which at 12 million square feet and equivalent in size to more than 50 soccer fields makes it the largest mall in the world.
Residents also have access to The Burj Club, which sits at the foot of the tower in a stylish four-storey annex.
The health and wellness club includes a state-of-the-art gym, Olympic-sized swimming pool and a luxurious spa. Non-residents can have a taste of the high life by booking the rooftop brunch at The Burj Club every Friday from 12 p.m.-4 p.m. from US$80 per adult with pool access.
The Burj Club; +971 4 888 3900
Work of art
While the exterior is undoubtedly a tribute to architectural excellence, the Burj has also established itself as a thriving hub for art and design supported by global patrons.
More than 1,000 works of art – a mixture of contemporary works, sculptures and installations – by Middle Eastern and international artists adorn the tower’s interior and surrounding boulevard with many pieces specially commissioned as a tribute to the spirit of global harmony.
Burj Khalifa, 1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Dubai, UAE
Selina Julien is a celebrity, travel and lifestyle journalist and editor; Follow her on Instagram: @Selinajulien