I only had a brief stopover in Abu Dhabi, but there was plenty of time to explore the two things on my list: the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Ferrari World on Yas Island.

You can’t get two things more diametrically opposed apart from the extent that they represent extremes, and both attract fanatical worship.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The mosque is the largest in the United Arab Emirates and was commissioned by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Regardless of your religious affiliation there’s no doubt that this is a structure that rivals all the other great religious edifices of the world.

It’ll undoubtedly be very hot when you go, but don’t make the mistake of wearing shorts to the mosque otherwise you’ll need to wear a thobe (long robe) over the top of your clothes which they will lend you. Women will need to cover their hair and dress modestly.

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Each dome is a different size, and there are 82 in total with the highest one 85m tall and 32.2 metres diameter. The courtyard is built with Italian marble
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Now you know what time to pray
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There are four minarets (towers) that are 107m tall. The mosque is surrounded by landscaped gardens. And belligerent security guards
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Interior detailing is enormously complex with seven stunning chandeliers (all different) featuring millions of Swarovski crystals

The inside is where you’ll want to spend the most time, predominantly because it’s air-conditioned and a welcome respite from 40 degrees outside. There are plenty of drinking fountains outside when you’ve sweated the critical amount of fluid.

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The carpet is the largest in the world, made of wool from New Zealand and Iran. It weighs 35 tons, and is over 5600 square metres. There are over 2 billion knots in the carpet and you’ll see that raised lines have been shaved into it to let worshippers know where to stand in lines for prayers.

It’s well worth getting the audio tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. She took us through the history and functions of the mosque.

And now onto something a little less earnest, but no less flambouyant: rollercoasters.

Ferrari World

Things in UAE may look close together but often they quite a distance apart. Taxis are relatively inexpensive, but make sure you know exactly what the fare is going to be because some drivers will try to charge you more than the going rate.

Ferrari World has been on my list of things to do since I found out about it in 2008. It wasn’t finished until November 2010. The reason: Formula Rossa, which is the world’s fastest roller coaster.

Ferrari World Formula Rossa
You can’t take photos on the coaster because it pulls 4.8G off the line as it rockets you to 240km/h in just 5 seconds!

This video shows the experience.

But let me frame it in exact terms because I went on it 4 times (the advantages of buying a silver pass to jump the queues).

One time I sat in the front and it was extreme. Imagine being strapped into a high-speed oven. Once you get out of the slightly air-conditioned departure area you will be accelerated seamlessly to 240km/h in just five seconds as 45-degree heat blasts your face and dries your eyes behind your goggles. Then you hit the 52-metre slope where at the top you are tilted sideways and into what feels like a free-fall. It is the most exhilarating thing I’ve done, and I’ve ridden a lot of rollercoasters. It makes the other “good” rollercoaster at the park (“Fast Lane”) seem like “Fast Lame”.

The other thing that’s worth doing are the drift karts, but make sure you go and book this immediately on your arrival because it gets booked hours in advance.

Ferrari World drift karts
Sideways action on the slippery track
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Interior architecture of Ferrari World is just as interesting as the rides
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There are loads of displays of Ferrari’s models, plus interactive histories, simulators and more

Ferrari World F1 car

Ferrari World is a little on the pricey side, especially if you opt for the silver pass like I did which gives you access to the priority lines. However, I’m a rollercoaster aficionado, so it was worth it for me to experience Formula Rosso.

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