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. More info and photos