Advice, Guides & Inspiration

The 12 best road marathon events in the world

Completing the 26.2 miles (or 42.2km) of a Marathon race is no mean feat. It requires physical and mental endurance, dedicated training and plenty of personal sacrifices. If you’re going to put in months of training for a race, the reward has to equal the effort. So why not reward yourself by taking part in one of these epic events and create lifelong memories along the way? Here’s our pick of the 12 best marathons from around the globe, so that signing up for a marathon will be the best decision you ever made. 

1. Paris Marathon

One of the great international races, running since 1976, the Paris Marathon sees around 50,000 runners take to the streets each year. The support and atmosphere is unrivalled, concentrated around the start and finish lines which are only a few hundred meters apart.  The course takes you through the heart of the city, starting at the Champs Elysées, and passing the Louvre, Place de la Bastille, and the Eiffel Tower before finishing at the famous Avenue Foch with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. What better way to tick off your sightseeing agenda in the space of a few hours?

2. London Marathon

The crown jewel of endurance sports events in the UK, the London Marathon lives up to the hype. It draws huge, cheering crowds from start to finish and passes many of the great sights of the city before rounding off at The Mall after passing Buckingham Palace. If you’re a seasoned marathoner, it’s also a perfect course for a PB with a very flat route (Paula Radcliff set the women’s world record there in 2005, which still stands). Unsurprisingly, it’s a hugely popular event, but don’t worry if you miss out on the ballot, there are plenty of charity places available. In 2007, 78% of runners raised money for their chosen charity. It has the Guinness World Record for the largest annual fundraising event in the world with £63.7 million raised in 2018, and has now broken the billion-pound mark for charity fundraising since its inception in 1981.

3. Loch Ness Marathon

If you’re looking for a change of scene from the hustle and bustle of a big city marathon then the Loch Ness Marathon is a stunning option. Starting near Fort Augustus up in the hills, you’ll be treated to spectacular Highland views before you climb down and begin following the banks of Loch Ness. You’ll also have the chance to spot its most famous and elusive inhabitant; the Loch Ness Monster. Aside from the beautiful scenery, runners come from all over for the informal atmosphere, super friendly competitors and lots of local support. 

4. Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma)

Rome is one of the most architecturally interesting cities in the world – an ancient monument hides around every corner. It’s best explored on foot at the best of times, but the Rome Marathon does its best to take in as many sights as possible on a whistlestop tour. Starting in front of the Colosseum, you’ll work your way past St. Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps among others. This event is a tourist runner’s dream, however it’s not the best event if you’re gunning for a PB: cobbled streets and tight sections mean that there’s a chance you’ll be held up at points, but you can take that as an opportunity to catch your breath and then have your breath taken away again by your surroundings. 

5. NYC Marathon

With crowd support and a city route to rival the London Marathon, the New York Marathon easily makes this list as one of the biggest and best marathons in the world. What’s more, New York can claim to be the original of the two, being founded in 1970. Participants come from all corners of the globe to take part in this famous race and enjoy the tour of New York through its various neighborhoods; Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. No other event attracts such an international crowd. As with most events on this list, there is a heavily oversubscribed ballot, but if you’re keen to guarantee yourself a place you can apply for a charity place or run a qualifying time in advance at an approved event. 

6. Great Wall Marathon

This marathon is a tough one. Along the way participants will conquer 5,164 steps as they trace their way along the Great Wall of China. Thankfully, although one of the tougher events on this list (it will take the average participant twice as long to complete as a normal marathon) it is easily one of the most breathtaking. It has a small field of around 650 participants and so carries an exclusive feeling making it all the more special to participate in. Towards the finish, at Yin and Yang Square in the Huangyaguan fortress, you’ll encounter the local crowds cheering you on to the end.

7. Honolulu Marathon

If you ever needed an excuse to visit Hawaii other than the tropical climate and beautiful sandy beaches with volcanic views then this is it. It’s one of the biggest races in the USA with over 30,000 participants and promises a big welcoming atmosphere. You’ll start in the darkness at 5am and watch the sun rise, revealing the stunning views as you progress through the race. It’s also a great event for beginners and there’s no time limit so you can take all the time you need to enjoy your surroundings. 

8. Berlin Marathon

The Berlin Marathon has established itself as a contender for having the fastest course in the world. Eliud Kipchoge smashed the world record there in 2018 with a time of 2 h 01 min 39 sec. Expect the usual German efficiency when it comes to organisation but also great crowd support and historic sights. The start and finish areas are near the famous Brandenburg Gate which makes for some epic finishers’ photos. And as a side, if running isn’t as much your thing, you can rollerskate the course on the Saturday before the runners!

9. Boston Marathon

Founded in 1897, it’s the oldest annual marathon event in the world and also one of the most sought after. It’s full of tradition and history with great crowds – over half a million come to watch and support for the duration of the race. It’s also a pretty quick course, but to participate you’ll also have to be a pretty quick runner – due to high demand the organisers have put in place some pretty strict qualifying conditions. It’s a net downhill course and takes in many of the historic sights that Boston has to offer with a big city finish to cap off one of the most memorable runs you could ever participate in.

10. The Great Ocean Road Marathon

This event makes the list because it has easily one of the most stunning routes any marathon has to offer. Winding along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road with views of rugged coastline and Australia’s Southern Ocean. The views will certainly help to take the pain away as you work your way along the course. To add to the allure of this event, after you’re done, there’s loads to take in around Victoria, including Apollo Bay and breathtaking mountain scenery. 

11. Tokyo Marathon

This event will take you on a journey from the old to the new in one of the most visually stunning cities in the world. As you progress along the route you will pass the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Station seeing how the old, traditional side of Japan has been interwoven with it’s new hypermodern architecture and culture. With the 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo you can only imagine the hype surrounding this event locally will grow rapidly. 

12. Big Sur International Marathon

Up for a challenge? The Big Sur International Marathon follows the undulating California coastline. You’ll battle through hills and headwind but will be justly rewarded by the scenery on offer. You’ll pass through redwood forests with glimpses of the Pacific Ocean beyond. And despite the race taking place largely away from the big cities, there’s plenty of entertainment on offer throughout the race. If you are one of the lucky few who find themselves holding tickets to the Boston Marathon then you can take on the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, which includes tackling the two marathons (which are 3,000 miles apart) in six days.

The list of best road marathons in the world:

  1. Paris Marathon
  2. London Marathon
  3. Loch Ness Marathon
  4. Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma)
  5. NYC Marathon
  6. Great Wall Marathon
  7. Honolulu Marathon
  8. Berlin Marathon
  9. Boston Marathon
  10. The Great Ocean Road Marathon
  11. Tokyo Marathon
  12. Big Sur International Marathon