Bigger Dubai Icon: Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab?

When it comes to Dubai’s iconic landmarks, the discussion comes down to either Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab. No sane person would leave the emirate without visiting both attractions, but if we really have to compare the apple to the orange, which one rules supreme?

Bigger Dubai Icon: Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab?

Claim to Fame

Burj Khalifa: “Tallest Building in the World”

Burj Al Arab: “The World’s Only 7-Star Hotel”

The Achievement

Burj Khalifa: At the total architectural height of 828 meter, Burj Khalifa is not just tall tall. It has outcrazied the previous record holder, Taipei 101, by an astounding 319 meter.

When was the last time any building eclipsed its direct predecessor by 300+ meter? Like, never. Taipei 101, which was completed in 2004, had to go all the way back to 1908’s Singer Building before it can claim it has eclipsed a previous record-holder by 300+ meter. That’s 96 years of human achievement condensed into a blink!

As a building which has revolutionized what is possible in architecture, Burj Khalifa has received 30+ awards. It’s probably safe to say that Burj Khalifa has the upper hand here.

Burj Al Arab: Sorry to burst the bubble so early: Burj Al Arab is really just a deluxe five-star hotel. There’s no such thing as a seven-star hotel, but this urban legend has a reason to start.

The hotel has been repeatedly voted as the world’s most luxurious hotel. Its Royal Suite, which costs an outrageous US$18,716 per night, is ranked #12 on CNN’s list of most expensive hotel suites. But in return, you get to enjoy private amenities such as cinema, bars, library, all-Hermes toiletries, 24-carat Gold iPad and chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

Burj Al Arab has won several awards as well, including Guinness Book of Records’ “Tallest All Suite Hotel in the World” in 2000. Unfortunately, the feat has been bested and Burj Al Arab’s ranking has slipped to #3…

…which brings out the question, what happens when Burj Khalifa’s record is finally broken?

Timely vs. Timeless Aesthetic

Burj Khalifa: It’s inevitable. By 2019, the 1000-meter Kingdom Tower will be completed in Saudi Arabia. And even that will eventually be eclipsed, with massive projects already proposed including the emirate’s own Dubai Vertical City, which is visioned to reach the dizzying height of 2,400 meter (though this may be challenging to realize in near future).

Once the “tallest” gimmick is over, it’s left to the question of whether Burj Khalifa’s inherent aesthetic and sentimental value is sufficient. For me, I think it’s beautiful and impressive enough to remain one of the top icons of Dubai, but as the icon of Dubai?

Well, with Dubai’s ever-growing ambitions, it’s probably just a matter of time before a more impressive project launches and eclipses Burj Khalifa’s popularity in drawing international tourism receipts. But I could be wrong on that. Nobody knows for sure.

Burj Al Arab: One thing for sure, though, Burj Al Arab’s clean, no-kitsch design has already proven to stand the test of time.

Burj Khalifa is a beautiful building in its own right, but Burj Al Arab’s elegant and innovative style belongs in a class of its own. It’s almost like pitting Sydney Opera House against Q1, or comparing Big Ben with the Shard.

Built to resemble an Arabian dhow with a nice touch of D-shaped silhouette, the image of Burj Al Arab on the coastline of Persian Gulf has become synonymous with Dubai. There’s no question who wins this round.


Choosing a winner would be meaningless as both buildings are iconic in their own way. I remember being impressed with the monstrosity of Burj Khalifa, undeniably Dubai’s crowning achievement. But I also recall the time when we ride a boat looking back at the Burj Al Arab with great awe and admiration of its beauty.

When I returned from Dubai two months ago, Burj Al Arab ended up as the Facebook cover of my Dubai photo album. Burj Al Arab won my heart by a slight margin back then, but looking back now, I think they are really neck-on-neck with each other. So at the end of the day, it comes down to our personal preferences.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget to book a ticket up to the observation deck of Burj Khalifa now. After all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime-experience to have a bird’s-eye view of Dubai from the world’s tallest building.

What do you think? Which building represents Dubai more: Burj Khalifa or Burj Al Arab? Or do you have an underdog favorite that can hold its own as the Dubai icon?


5 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s a hard choice, but it’s gotta be Burj Khalifa, for me. There’s something about Burj Al Arab that I don’t like…probably because it’s so expensive there. However, perhaps the ultimate symbols of Dubai are the Bastakia Quarter and the Creek.


    1. Andrew Darwitan says:

      Interesting choice with Bastakia and the Creek. They do bring out the more authentic part of Dubai. =)


  2. I love different architectural designs so I don’t think I could choose my favorite. Like you said, they are both famous in their own right. I would love to step inside each of them – however, it would cost a lot of money to stay in a 7-star hotel.


    1. Andrew Darwitan says:

      They said you can go inside Burj Al Arab if you booked a dining, which I heard is still expensive but beats staying at those ridiculously expensive rooms!!


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