Pre-pandemic, one of London’s oldest skate shops, Skate Attack on Turnpike Lane, converted five pairs of ice skates into rollerskates — every day. Now, that’s jumped to 50. Roller Nation, a rink in Bruce Grove, reports a similar explosion of interest. In 2020, 10% of visitors owned their own skates — that’s since rocketed to 70%. The rink now opens on Mondays and Sunday afternoons to keep up with the influx of the sport’s keen participants. Instructor Nele Van Bogaert, who founded London’s Isle of Skating, explains, “Social media definitely sparked the trend. Instagram and TikTok were flooded with skating content.” The trend is booming across Europe, too. Marja Zilcher, a self-professed skate nerd and founder of Rebel Rollers Helsinki, says, “We’ve seen a huge increase in skaters — and it’s an international trend according to the various skating groups I’m in.” From skating along a disused railway in Helsinki to pirouetting around Berlin’s old airport, National Geographic take a tour of the five best European cities for rollerskating.
1. Helsinki, Finland
For coastal routes
Roller derby launched in Helsinki in 2010, but Marja Zilcher, founder of Rebel Rollers Helsinki, wasn’t keen on the contact sport’s more aggressive nature, so she formed her own group. Rebel Rollers Helsinki skates indoors every Sunday at Merilahti Comprehensive School. Zilcher runs informal classes and tours, too, warming up on the western side of Töölö Bay, which has views of swans, the Opera House and various 19th-century wooden villas such as Art Cafe Taideterassi. The eastern side is hilly, so only suitable for experienced skaters. There’s a popular six-mile circuit from Oodi, too — follow the former railway line, Baana, which has been transformed into a pedestrian and cycling path, to West Harbour, around Jätkäsaari Peninsula and back. With little traffic and a smooth, flat surface, it’s ideal for beginners.
Zilcher also recommends a ‘legendary’ coastal route from Esplanade Park to the skate ramps near Löyly sauna; in just 30 minutes, you’ll feel like you’ve left the city behind. More experienced skaters, meanwhile, can join Street Gliders’ tours from the Olympic Stadium every Wednesday from May to August.
2. London, UK
For all levels
The Belgian-born inventor Joseph Merlin designed the first skates around 1760 in London. He exhibited them at a masquerade ball, where he crashed into a mirror. Knowing how to stop, turn and control your speed is the main requirement for participating in the UK capital’s free skate events, London Friday Night Skate and Sunday Stroll. Both attract hundreds of skaters who hurtle along routes ranging between six to 15 miles around Camden, Barnes and Putney. Beginners can learn the basics with Nele Van Bogaert at Roller Nation or practise on their own. Skate Attack’s Jo Bell says, “London’s skating scene is focused around Emirates Stadium, Finsbury Park and Victoria Park. Hyde Park has skaters in their forties who’ve been skating for years, while the new generation go behind The O2.”
3. Berlin, Germany
For long-distance skaters
Berlin-based Senegalese instructor Oumi Janta went viral on Instagram in 2020 for her jam skating moves in buttercup yellow shorts and is credited for kickstarting the city’s rollerskating trend. Rollerskating tourists may spot Janta pirouetting around Berlin’s old airport, Tempelhofer Feld, which has a smooth surface, ramps and toilets. Skaters can also loop Volkspark Friedrichshain, Teltow Canal and Kronprinzessinnenweg, a two-and-a-half-mile path in leafy Grunewald Forest. Alternatively, tour Flaeming Skate, a network of eight asphalt paths designed for skaters south of the city. The route covers 140 miles through forests, meadows and villages, with circuits ranging from around seven to nearly 60 miles. Inline skates — which have four wheels in a line — are also popular. In 2022, experienced (inline) skaters can participate in Generali Berlin Half Marathon on 3 April, Adidas Runners City Night on 30 July and BMW Berlin Marathon on 25 September. “Only in Berlin can you skate right through the centre of the city, right past all the sights,” says Gerte Buchheit, who promotes all three events. “The finish line is behind the Brandenburg Gate.”
4. Vienna, Austria
For eco warriors
In Vienna, more people are choosing to rollerskate because it’s a sustainable form of transport. Gerhard Ladstätter organises Vienna’s Friday Night Skating, a free event that attracts 2,500 people between May and October. He says, “Friday Night Skating is a political demonstration, spearheaded by the Green Party in the late 1990s. The idea behind it was and still is easy: reclaim the streets from cars. We want to move without burning fuel.” For the course of the skate, participants are accompanied by police and 20 so-called ‘rolling guards’. “When we began, the police didn’t accept that a demonstration could be on skates without chanting or banners,” he continues. “Now, there’s a sophisticated coexistence between us.” The event starts at the Prince Eugene Statue in Heldenplatz. Routes vary but are 10 to 15 miles. Beginners can also skate past picnickers and outdoor cafes along the Donaukanal — the section after Friedensbrücke Metro is quietest — and Prater Hauptallee, a three-mile route in Prater park that’s lined with chestnut trees. Intermediate skaters can tackle Donauinsel Island, a man-made isle with manicured gardens.
5. Amsterdam, the Netherlands
For skating tours
Amsterdam is famous for its cycle culture, with many travellers exploring the city by bike, but rollerskaters can whisk around the city, too. Lex van Buuren, founder of Skate-A-Round, has been hosting lessons and tours around Amsterdam and beyond since the late 1990s, and volunteers at Friday Night Skate. The event starts from Vondel CS TV studios in Vondelpark, which is twice the size of London’s St James’s Park and home to boulevards, a lake and an open-air theatre, and covers around 12 miles in about two hours. “Friday Night Skate used to be a mass skate,” he explains. “Now it’s a cosy affair, with 20 to 125 locals and skate enthusiasts from around the world who have Amsterdam on their short break list. This city has loads of skateable parks and smooth paths in the centre of town, which is a true luxury. It’s a skater’s paradise.”