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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.