There is no shortage of man-made thrills in this world. But we have a special fondness for the roller coaster.
Since they were invented in the mid-18th century, humans have escaped the ho-hum of every day by jumping in an open-air roller coaster car on a thrilling track.
Coasters were originally more like slides. Russian aristocracy would board wooden carts and go down a man-made hill. Later, they were developed as more of a “scenic” experience, allowing passengers to experience new routes quickly (and without having to work for them).
By the early 20th century, engineers were experimenting with roller coaster technology, looking for more ways to provide thrills. At this point, the coasters were capable of going faster, curving, and twisting around hills.
And the thrills have increased exponentially in the past 100 years. Today, roller coasters have become instruments of adrenaline (or torture, depending on your perspective). They break speed records, hurl passengers through space, and some are even designed to trick riders. Whether they’re sending us upside down (14 times), zooming us over a course at 150 miles per hour or making us scream by shuffling the track while we’re on it, today’s roller coasters are thrilling marvels of engineering.
Head to Ferrari World in Dubai for the fastest coaster experience on the planet. Or go to California to ride through the highest inverted loop in the world. Japan has roller coasters that seem to defy science with their dizzying drops. Or maybe you just want to honor the good ol’ days of coasters. If so, Australia has the world’s oldest continually-operating coaster — it’s been taking passengers around its track for more than 100 years.
Scroll through to discover the 15 most terrifying, stomach-clenching, vertigo-inducing, adrenaline-pumping, and just plain best roller coasters in the world.
Formula Rossa — Ferrari World, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
When it comes to speed, no other coaster in the world can compare with Formula Rossa. Developed to resemble a Ferrari sportscar, this roller coaster is the fastest in the world. It launches riders from zero to 150 miles per hour in five seconds. The track sits on a Ferrari racing course and swerves around 1.5 miles of track. The ride only lasts a minute and a half, but it’s one of the most hard-pounding 90 seconds you can experience on a roller coaster anywhere on the planet.
Kingda Ka — Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
This is the tallest roller coaster in the world and the fastest in North America. The track reaches heights of 456 feet (over 45 stories) before sending riders hurtling down at 128 miles per hour — a speed reached in just 3.5 seconds. Kingda Ka is one of the most intense rides around, even though the whole experience only lasts about 50 seconds. (But you probably couldn’t take it much longer, to be honest.)
Steel Dragon 2000 — Nagashima Spaland, Japan
Honors for the world’s longest roller coaster go to the Steel Dragon 2000 in Japan. It cost more than $52 million to construct its 8,000 feet of track and it’s the seventh-tallest steel coaster in the world, reaching 318 feet at its peak. The Steel Dragon 2000 also has the sixth-longest drop, which shoots passengers 95 miles per hour on a 306-foot descent.
Top Thrill Dragster — Cedarpoint, Ohio
Often considered the roller coaster capital of America, Cedar Point is home to many of the country’s most thrilling rides, but the king of them all is the Top Thrill Dragster. When it was built, it was meant to be the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world. Since then, other coasters have edged in, but that doesn’t diminish the power of this heart-thumping ride. Passengers reach 120 miles per hour in only 3.8 seconds and embark on a journey through peaks up to 420 feet. Now, the coaster is the second-tallest and the third-fastest in the world.
T Express — Everland, South Korea
For riders who prefer an old-school (but still extreme!) experience, the T Express in South Korea is the world’s tallest wooden coaster at 183 feet. The course takes advantage of its location on a hillside, launching riders down a 150-foot drop. The ride reaches a top speed of 65 miles per hour and sends cars down a 77-degree drop. It’s routinely voted one of the best wooden coasters in the world.
Goliath — Six Flags Great America, Illinois
It’s a subtle distinction. The Goliath may not be the tallest wooden coaster in the world, but it’s got the tallest drop. Although the coaster is only 165 feet tall, passengers aboard Goliath plunge 180 feet through an underground tunnel and come out on the other side. At its fastest, the coaster goes 72 miles per hour and has two inversions, making for a stomach-churning ride.
The Smiler — Alton Towers, United Kingdom
The Smiler will turn your world upside down. It’s got the most inversions of any coaster in the world — a dizzying 14. And passengers are sent up through the loops at 53 miles per hour. But don’t think that quantity cancels out variety. There are several different types of inversions throughout the track, including a heartline roll, dive loop, and corkscrew. We would recommend trying this one out on an empty stomach.
Full Throttle — Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
The terrifying Full Throttle boasts the tallest and fastest vertical loop in the world. Riders go 70 miles per hour up a loop that reaches 160 feet tall. While you’re riding, the coaster feels unpredictable. It lurches around, switching direction several times, including once while you’re in the middle of the loop.
Takabisha — Fuji-Q Highland, Japan
The world’s steepest roller coaster may be one of the most terrifying two-minute experiences in the world. Takabisha starts by plummeting riders into a dark tunnel and it only gets scarier from there. The crowning feature is a mind-bending 121-degree “beyond vertical” drop through several loops and inversions.
The Scenic Railway — Luna Park, Australia
Sometimes you just want something classic. The Scenic Railway may not have the most heart-pounding track, but it’s the world’s oldest continually-operating coaster. It’s been taking passengers around its wooden track since December 1912, so there’s heritage in each car. It’s one of only three historic coasters in the world that requires a brakeman to stand in the middle of the train.
Steel Curtain — Kennywood, Pennsylvania
This Pittsburgh Steelers-themed roller coaster broke records when it opened this summer. Not only does it have nine inversions and a zero-gravity stall, but it’s got the world’s highest inversion at a record-breaking 197 feet. The Steel Curtain reaches a top speed of 76 miles per hour but has a track so smooth, it claims to be a “family-friendly” ride. The family that screams together...
Yukon Striker - Canada's Wonderland, Canada
Things may be bigger in Texas but apparently they’re longer, faster, and taller in Canada. The world’s longest, fastest, and tallest dive coaster opened earlier this year in Canada’s Wonderland. But those records aren’t the most spine-chilling part of the ride. The Yukon Striker leaves riders hanging over a 90-degree drop for a full three seconds, dangling 245 feet over an underwater tunnel. Whoever said that Canadians are among the friendliest people on the planet needs to consider the menacing factors of this coaster.
The Gravity Max — Lihpao Land Discovery World, Taiwan
This South African coaster set a niche record: the most G-forces of any coaster in the world. At 6.3 Gs, the Tower of Terror is so powerful it could make some people pass out. The gravitational force is twice as much as an astronaut would experience in a normal rocket launch. The most memorable moment of this ride is a 49-foot drop into a former functional mine shaft.
Tower of Terror — Gold Reef City, South Africa
This South African coaster sets a niche record: the most G forces of any coaster in the world. At 6.3 Gs, the Tower of Terror is so powerful, it could make some people pass out. It is twice as much as an astronaut would experience in a normal rocket launch. The most memorable moment is a 49-foot drop into a former functional mine shaft.
Do-Dodonpa — Fuji-Q Highland, Japan
This is not a ride for people who are susceptible to bouts of motion sickness. Once you’re onboard, the train shoots off on the fastest acceleration in the world, going from zero to 112 miles per hour in 1.56 seconds. From there, it’s a nonstop 55 seconds of loops, swerves, curves, and a zero-gravity zone.