• 7 October 2021

Running a marathon is one of the greatest challenges you can take on. Running a marathon in a spectacular destination takes the challenge to a whole new level! To celebrate the wonders of travel, exercise and the great outdoors, Expat Explore has put together a list of 12 of the world’s most epic marathons! 

Famous city races, scenic off-road journeys, and bucket list-worthy adventures; each of the races on this list are uniquely enticing and epic in their own way! From the prestige of the majors to marathons set against the backdrop of towering, snow-capped peaks and routes under the midnight sun. These marathons offer competitors much more than the average running session. 

Crowds running in Berlin, epic marathons
The Berlin Marathon attracts thousands of participants!

If you love long-distance races or are a passionate traveller who is up for a challenge and wants to see more of the world from a different perspective, these epic marathons are the perfect way to travel and push your limits in unforgettable settings. Channel your inner champion with these 12 epic marathons around the world! 

12 Most epic marathons in the world:

The Majors: New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo

The world’s largest and most renowned races are the Abbott World Marathon Majors. These are six of the most high-profile marathon events in the world, taking place in New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo.

1. New York City Marathon

The New York City Marathon is one of the world’s biggest, with an average of 53,000+ participants (ranging from professional athletes to recreation runners) and an estimated million+ spectators! The race takes place annually on the first Sunday of November. Runners start in Staten Island, move through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and end in Manhattan. An epic way to experience this world-famous city! 

Runners compete in New York City Marathon, epic marathons
The crowds, sights and atmosphere make the New York City Marathon one of the best!
2. Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest marathon! This marathon was established in 1897 and has been run every year since – even virtually in 2020! While the race usually takes place on the third Monday of April (Patriot’s Day in the USA), the 2021 date is set for 11 October due to Covid-19 delays. Runners can enjoy the route, which remains pretty much the same as the original race from over 100 years ago, and offers exceptional views of the city as well as great prestige! 

Cityscape of Boston, epic marathons
Boston hosts the world’s oldest annual marathon.

Related: Visit Boston and New York City on an Eastern USA & Canada Escape tour!

3. Chicago Marathon

In autumn, Chicago is almost bursting at the seams with the one million+ spectators and 40,000 runners filling the streets for the annual Chicago Marathon! The course is fast and flat and the route loops through 29 of the city’s neighbourhoods which are lined with friends, family and supporters cheering on the runners. The event takes place in autumn, on 10 October in 2021, and the participants are a great mix of elite athletes, seasoned runners and excited newbies! 

Runners dressed in fun costumes at the Chicago Marathon, epic marathons
Many participants dress up and run for charity at major events like the Chicago Marathon.
4. London Marathon

Visit London in Spring and you may stumble across a city filled with the world’s best runners! 750,000+ spectators line the streets to cheer on runners from around the world – with millions more tuning in to watch the London Marathon on TV. Traditionally, the event takes place in April, however, due to Covid-19, the marathon took place in early October 2021. The route offers excellent views of London’s biggest landmarks and runners cross the finish line along The Mall, with Buckingham Palace in sight! The London Marathon is also popular with charity runners who have raised millions of pounds over the years. 

Runners near Big Ben and dressed up for the London Marathon, epic marathons
Fun costumes, iconic landmarks and a great route make the London Marathon a super popular event!
5. Berlin Marathon

Berlin’s streets are a hive of activity during the last weekend of September. The annual Berlin Marathon draws nearly a million spectators with over 45,000 runners competing from multiple countries and experience backgrounds. The vibe is electric during the marathon and the feeling of running through the Brandenburg Gate (a symbol of Berlin’s reunification) to the finish line is simply unbeatable! 

Smiling man runs under Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Marathon, epic marathons
There is nothing quite like crossing the finish line near Brandenburg Gate in Berlin!
6. Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon is the most recent addition to the majors. It’s truly a day that brings people together. In fact, the theme “The Day We Unite” attracts huge numbers of runners, spectators and volunteers to the host city every year. The route symbolises the past, present and future of Tokyo, with runners starting in Shinjuku and finishing at Tokyo Station near the Imperial Palace. 

Neon sights and streets in Tokyo, at night, epic marathons
This bright and bustling city is filled with runners during the Tokyo Marathon.

These events attract runners and spectators from all over the world. Whether you are pounding the tar or watching from the crowds, the atmosphere is what makes the majors special! 

Marathons are an incredible way to experience major cities. Even if you are not a professional runner, competing in the annual races through Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and more, offers a new, exciting and challenging way to experience these famous destinations! 

Crows cheer runners in pars Marathon near Eiffel Tower, epic marathons
See Paris from a new perspective when you complete a marathon through this beautiful city!

Related: Enjoy memorable trips to destinations including Paris, Rome and Amsterdam on Expat Explore’s variety of multi-country Europe tours

7. Great Wall Marathon, China

If you can take the heat and the steep climbs, the Great Wall Marathon could be just the test of endurance you’re after! The iconic Great Wall of China hosts this tough and demanding race. The race takes place annually in May and the route trails through fields and villages and includes climbs up steep stairs on the wall. It’s an incredible challenge, to say the least! It may take you twice as long as normal to complete but the feeling of tackling this marathon adventure along an iconic piece of ancient history is one you will never forget. 

Woman runs along Great Wall of Chine, epic marathons
Traverse this iconic landmark during the Great Wall Marathon in China.
8. Big Sur International Marathon, USA

Big Sur is a ruggedly beautiful stretch of coastline in California. The Big Sur International Marathon consistently ranks as one of the most scenic marathons in the world! The race takes place on the last Sunday of April and the route snakes up Highway 1; beginning in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and ending in the city of Carmel. Giant redwood trees, the stunning Santa Lucia mountains and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean make this marathon one that will take your breath away (in a good way!). As if the views aren’t enough, live musicians perform along the route to keep runners motivated! 

View of Highway 1 in California USA, epic marathons
Admire the sweeping coastal views during the Big Sur International Marathon in the USA.
9. Big Five Marathon, South Africa

Get ready for a marathon that really is the wildest of them all! A marathon plus potential Big Five sightings? That’ll definitely give you a reason to be speedy! This event is a combination of a challenging marathon and an incredible safari experience. The route is completely immersed in the bush; you’ll run through sweeping savannah landscapes on dirt tracks and sandy trails at Entabeni – a private game reserve in Limpopo, South Africa. You can admire the views and keep an eye out for animals in their natural habitat! The Big Five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo – are Africa’s most famous wildlife to view. The event will take place in November 2021 and June 2022.

View of giraffe and rock formation in Entabeni Conservancy Limpopo, South Africa, epic marathons
Get wild in the Entabeni Conservancy during the Big Five Marathon in South Africa!

Related: Marathons not your thing? See South Africa’s wildlife in their natural habitat on a spectacular safari tour

10. Patagonian International Marathon, Chile

Snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes, dramatic glaciers and cascading waterfalls… The scenery of the Patagonian International Marathon in Torres del Paine is magnificent! This is a marathon of a grand scale that is not for the faint-hearted! Run the route through the heart of Patagonia to the base of Monte Almirante Nieto at the southern tip of Chile. The marathon started in 2012 and takes place annually in September. Fair warning, the course is challenging and the weather can be hostile! It all makes for an unbelievable adventure! 

Runners competing in Patagonian International Marathon in Chile, epic marathons
Test your limits at the Patagonian International Marathon.

Related: Take a look at Expat Explore’s collection of South American guided group tours and get ready to explore this incredible region of the world!  

11. Midnight Sun Marathon, Norway

In June, Tromsø in Norway experiences never-ending sunlight! This offers the perfect opportunity to go for a midnight run. The Midnight Sun Marathon is the most northerly marathon in the world, sitting 400km above the Arctic Circle! The marathon begins at 8.30pm and usually finishes up just after 12am. The route winds through the city and surrounds, with views of the picturesque waterfront, snow-capped mountains and the striking Arctic Cathedral! This may not be one of the world’s biggest or most popular running events, however, running a marathon while dappled in the sunshine at nighttime is definitely epic in our books! 

View of Tromsø in Norway during summer months, epic marathons
Tromsø in Norway experiences 24-hour sunlight in June!

Related: Experience the wonders of Norway and more on our Scandinavia tours

12. Le marathon des châteaux du Médoc, France

This one is for runners and wine lovers! This is arguably the world’s wackiest and booziest marathon and it takes place in France’s famous Bordeaux region. Competitors dress up in fun costumes, explore famous French vineyards along the route and drink wine, of course! While this race may not be for the serious runners, it is perfect for anyone looking for some extra fun on their run! Venture through dozens of vineyards in villages of the Medoc region and enjoy delicious tastings of food and wine. The event takes place in September and is incredibly popular. It may be unusual but it’s definitely a run you won’t forget. You also might not remember it the next morning!

View of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild with Garden in Saint-Estephe Medoc France, epic marathons
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Medoc, France, is one of the stops!

These are our top 12 epic marathons from around the globe. They’re extraordinary, adventurous and memorable – in fact, they are definitely a great way to experience a new travel destination! What epic marathons would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments because we would love your feedback. 

Training for your next big race? Why not reward yourself with an epic vacation afterwards? Start planning your next trip with Expat Explore, today!

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