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Amusement parks are not for the faint of heart. Roller coasters and other adrenaline-packed thrill rides are feats of engineering and architecture designed to shock, excite, and even terrify the most experienced rider out there. From a 100-foot-tall trapdoor, to a perilous swing over a Colorado canyon, and more inversions than your stomach can handle, here are 15 of the most intense amusement park rides around the world.
Takabisha, Fujiyoshida, Japan
A ride on the famed Takabisha roller coaster only lasts two minutes, but the thrills come fast and furious in that short amount of time. Located at the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park in Fujiyoshida, Japan, the ride starts by plunging passengers into a pitch-black tunnel before slowly rolling into the first of its seven inversions. As the coaster emerges back into daylight, it quickly accelerates to 62 miles per hour, flips riders around a few more times, and takes a sharp turn before stopping to climb 141 gravity-defying feet straight up to the top of the ride’s pivotal moment.
Once at the top, the single-vehicle coaster car slowly inches towards the stomach-churning 121-degree drop — but not before momentarily stopping and tipping forward to build suspense. From 2011 until 2019, Takabisha’s surreal drop made it the steepest coaster in the world; its record was usurped by a half-degree when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shellraiser coaster opened at the Nickelodeon Universe American Dream park in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The Swarm, Chertsey, United Kingdom
“The Swarm” at Thorpe Park in Chertsey opened in 2012 and had the distinction of being the United Kingdom’s first (and still the country’s only) “wing coaster.” This means that the passenger cars don’t sit on top of the track (the most common coaster design), nor do they hang below it. Instead, riders sit with their feet dangling on either side of the track, with nothing above or below them. The Swarm’s highest drop is from a hairy 127 feet high; the climactic climb comes early in the ride, and at the top, the track suddenly twists 180 degrees counter-clockwise, flipping riders upside down for the big plunge.
As if the five inversions, a 360-degree zero-gravity roll, and countless twists and turns weren’t enough, the ride’s wing coaster design only adds to its intensity. With the riders so exposed, they’re purposefully squeezed through narrow gaps in natural disaster-themed elements such as crashed planes, helicopters, crumbling buildings, ruined billboards, and at one point, even spraying water.
Formula Rossa, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
If it’s speed you’re looking for, there’s no better fix than the Formula Rossa roller coaster at the Ferrari World amusement park in Abu Dhabi. Since its opening in 2010, the Formula Rossa has held the title of the fastest roller coaster in the world. In just 4.9 seconds, riders are catapulted to 149 miles per hour — a speed so fast the ride requires protective goggles and puts a gravity-force of 4.8 on thrill-seekers’ bodies (and stomachs!) — similar to what Formula 1 drivers feel while racing on the track.
With speeds like that, you might expect a sophisticated harness system, but the Formula Rossa only has a lap restraint in its Ferrari F1-themed cars to keep riders intact. There are no major inversions or loops on the ride, but there are several sweeping curves, and you will climb as high as 170 feet in the air.
Kingda Ka, Jackson Township, New Jersey, U.S.
At 456 feet tall, Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey, is the world’s tallest roller coaster. Once strapped in, riders accelerate to 128 miles per hour in a breakneck 3.5 seconds. Almost immediately, at the end of the launch track, the train climbs 90 degrees straight up the staggering full height of the upside-down, U-shaped tower. From there, the coaster drops a heart-stopping 418 feet down a 270-degree spiral. Before you can even catch your breath, you’re zipping back up and down a 129-foot-tall curve.
Although Kingda Ka is no longer the fastest roller coaster in the world (that title was claimed by the Formula Rossa coaster in 2010), it’s still the fastest roller coaster in North America. The entire thrilling ride is over in just 28 seconds!
Sky Tower, Aarhus, Denmark
Unlike most theme park rides, which offer you at least some semblance of being buckled in, the Sky Tower at the Tivoli Friheden amusement park in Aarhus, Denmark, is a terrifying free fall from 130 feet in the air. The attraction is what’s known as a suspended catch air device, commonly referred to as a SCAD tower. The Sky Tower lifts riders to the top of the tower. The sling they’re sitting in is then unclipped from the suspension cable, and gravity takes over. Thrill-seekers can expect to reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour as they plummet to the net below.
Tivoli Friheden has a list of prerequisites and health caveats for the ride, and even politely offers you the chance to chicken out, stating on their website that “You can also just take the elevator up and enjoy the view over the whole city.”
Sky Scream, Haßloch, Germany
Sky Scream is a lesson in expecting the unexpected. The unusual roller coaster, which is located at Holiday Park in Haßloch, Germany, starts as many other coasters do: it leaves the station and starts the climb up its first hill. But part-way up, the cars pause for suspense before rolling backwards, through the station again, and part-way up another hill. The ride is then re-launched forward, accelerating to 62 miles per hour and up the 148-foot ascent before plunging.
What the Sky Scream lacks in record-breaking heights or speeds, it makes up for in originality. Not many coasters will twist riders through vertical twists and turns on the way up hills as well as down. Even fewer use slower speeds as deliberately and effectively as this coaster, which ensures riders are suspended weightlessly in their harnesses at key moments along the ride.
The Smiler, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
If the menacing name of this famous roller coaster at Alton Towers park in the U.K. doesn’t scare you away, the fact that it has a record-breaking 14 loops just might. “The Smiler” holds the Guinness World Record for the most track inversions on a roller coaster. The topsy-turvy coaster hurls riders upside down over and over at speeds of up to 53 miles per hour, and with a highest drop of 98 feet. The entire ride lasts for 165 seconds, which is about 164 seconds too long if you don’t have a stomach of steel!
The first inversion happens, torturously, halfway through the ride’s first drop, just mere seconds after launch. By the time the coaster reaches the 90-degree hill climb — and subsequent drop into a downward corkscrew — riders have already endured several other steep drops, twists, and sharp, 180-degree turns into consecutive rolls.
Gravity Max, Taichung City, Taiwan
The extent of Gravity Max’s full terrifying potential is not obvious at first glance. The ride, located at Taiwan’s Lihpao Land park, seems tame on paper compared to some of the more intense roller coasters of today: it only reaches a maximum speed of 56 miles per hour, and climbs to a maximum height of 114 feet. But it also happens to be the world’s first (and one of only two) tilt coasters, featuring a true 90-degree vertical tilt and drop that makes for one of the most suspenseful — and unforgettable — amusement park rides around the world.
The coaster immediately starts climbing the relatively gradual lift hill. Once riders reach the top, a gap in the track appears and the roller coaster begins its pivot down to reconnect with the track, switching from horizontal to completely, alarmingly vertical. The cars then click into place and spend what seems like a lifetime upside down, however, the move is only five seconds long before the coaster makes its descent, quickly accelerating to 56 miles per hour. After a couple more turns and loops, the ride returns to the station, and everyone starts counting their new grey hairs.
Ko’okiri Body Plunge, Orlando, Florida, U.S.
Orlando’s theme parks might not be known for their intensity (even if some attractions, like the Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World, are absolutely terrifying), but the Ko’okiri Body Plunge at Universal’s Volcano Bay water park is the exception. It’s one of the tallest water slides in North America, plunging riders down 125 feet before finishing with a massive splash in the pool at the foot of the massive Krakatau volcano.
The real suspense comes from the drop floor. After getting into the launch pod, riders are forced to wait for a few agonizing moments before the door beneath them opens up, releasing them into the near-vertical, 70-degree freefall.
Yukon Striker, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada
At 223 feet tall, 3,625 feet long, and with a maximum speed of 81 miles per hour, the Yukon Striker at Canada’s Wonderland amusement park outside of Toronto is the tallest, longest, and fastest dive coaster in the world (though it shares the height record with the Valravn coaster at Cedar Point in Ohio). Opened in 2019, the thrilling ride hurls guests upside down four times, does a zero-gravity roll, and switches things up with a counterclockwise, 360-degree helix spin towards the end.
Not unlike Taiwan’s Gravity Max — except without the missing chunk of track — the Yukon Striker torturously dangles riders for three seconds over its 90-degree drop before zipping down the over 3,600-foot-long track, into an underwater tunnel, and back out for an innovative inversion consisting of a 360-degree vertical loop — a first for a dive coaster. Phew.
Cannibal, Farmington, Utah, U.S.
Named for the belief that this roller coaster at Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Utah “eats other roller coasters in their tracks,” the “Cannibal” may not break any records, but it’s an intense ride that isn’t for thrill-seeking beginners.
The ride makes its initial ascent up a 208-foot-tall elevator lift, mostly in the dark, while encased inside a huge tower structure. Once it emerges, the coaster travels just a short stretch of track, pauses for suspense, and then abruptly drops 116 degrees, freefalling right into an underground tunnel. Before your senses can catch up, the Cannibal ascends right back up into a half-loop and then quickly into a dive loop. Before the two-and-a-half-minute ride is up, riders will also come close to a waterfall and take two heartline rolls in opposite directions. Make sure you ride on an empty stomach.
Giant Canyon Swing, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, U.S.
It might seem tame compared to some of the more extreme roller coasters out there, but the Giant Canyon Swing is an adrenaline addict’s dream. Located along the edge of a cliff on top of a mountain at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the pendulum ride seats four passengers and swings them wildly over a vast expanse of natural Centennial State beauty.
The view might make the ride sound somewhat serene, but at the height of each swinging arc in either direction, riders are swung so high they’re nearly vertical, dangling 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. The swing reaches speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, and as it makes its way from side to side, riders accelerate downwards faster than the natural rate of freefall, which causes stomach flips you’ll be feeling even after your feet are planted safely back on the ground.
Insanity, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Located on top of The STRAT casino and hotel (formerly the Stratosphere) in Las Vegas, the Insanity ride certainly lives up to its name. Almost 900 feet high, a massive, neon green mechanical arm (that looks similar to the spider-like device in a claw machine) extends 64 terrifying feet over the edge of the building. The arm then lifts up to an angle of 70 degrees and spins riders at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour while they’re facing almost straight down, with nothing underneath them but the bright lights of the city.
The STRAT also houses two other thrilling rides for big Vegas betters: the X-Scream, which thrusts riders over the edge of the building and teases them with a weightless teeter-totter before pulling them back in, as well as the Big Shot, which catapults riders 160 feet in the air at 45 miles per hour, all the way up the tower’s mast to a maximum height of 1,081 feet. Look down if you dare!
Fun Park Ferris Wheel, Kathmandu, Nepal
A ferris wheel isn’t usually considered a top thrill ride at any amusement park; in fact, they’re typically reserved for riders of all ages at smaller-scale county fairs. But at Fun Park in Kathmandu, Nepal, it’s one of the star attractions. Upon first look, the ride appears like any other ferris wheel. But once inside, the speed starts to pick up, and before you know it, the six-story structure is whipping around about five times faster than your average ferris wheel.
Riders scramble to stay in their seats, screaming as their carts swing and wobble wildly around and around. The Fun Park ferris wheel is powered by a gas motor and what appears to be an old fan belt. Its ramshackle nature, while a little alarming at first, is also the main appeal.
Insano, Aquiraz, Brazil
Insano was once the world’s tallest waterslide, but lost the honor when the Kilimanjaro water slide opened at Aldeia das Águas Park Resort in Rio de Janeiro in 1999. Nonetheless, Insano lives up to its name. Located right on the beach at Brazil’s beautiful Beach Park water park and resort, the human funnel hurtles riders down a 135-foot freefall. The drop lasts about five seconds and will have you splashing at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.
For perspective, the Insano stands about as tall as a 14-story building. The steep slide is open-air, with no additional protective barriers above and no harness of any kind. Simply plop down in the water and let go — and just try not to panic as your body moves so quickly it practically hovers above the slide on the way down.