by Ellen Curham
It may not be everybody’s perfect idea of a holiday, but travelling to compete in a marathon can be an amazing experience. Not only do you get to take part in one of the most exhilarating and challenging races out there, but you also get to check out a new destination.
Those who are serious about running should consider incorporating it into a vacation. This can be great motivation for training, knowing that at the end of the race you’ll have a whole new city to explore.
We’ve picked some of the best marathons in the world that combine great races with must-visit destinations. Try something different as a runner and spend your next few months planning what to see as well as training for the big day.
New York City Marathon
Most runners dream of one day competing in the New York City Marathon. This is the biggest of its kind, with around 50,000 people racing through the city’s five boroughs. With the greatest city in the world as a backdrop, it’s no wonder this race is so iconic.
However, its popularity means that it is also one of the hardest races to get a spot in. There are a number of different ways you can try and compete, including entering a lottery, running on behalf of an official partner or charity or purchasing a package through an international travel partner. The race usually takes place in November and applicants can start applying in January of that year on the website.
Where to stay? The marathon begins in Staten Island but passes through all five boroughs which each offer a distant vibe and plenty of attractions. The New York Budget Inn is smack dab in the heart of Manhattan, making it easy to explore the city after the race; they also offer sweet private rooms alongside their dorms so you can choose exactly what kind of post-run downtime you want!
Athens Authentic Marathon
For a truly authentic race, why not head to Athens, where it all began? It’s been 120 years since the first contemporary marathon race, which was inspired by the ancient Greek solder, Pheidippides. He is said to have run non-stop from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to deliver the message that the Greeks had defeated the Persians. When the modern Olympics began, the race was staged as an official event.
Today, the Athens Authentic Marathon takes place in November and attracts over 40,000 entries. Registration via the website for EU and non-EU citizens opens in April and closes as soon as the capacity is met. It is said to be one of the more difficult major marathons due to over 20km of uphill stretch. Yet with such historical importance attached to this race, the challenge is worth it for marathon enthusiasts.
Where to stay? The majority of visiting runners head to the historic neighbourhood of Plaka, which is close to Acropolis and many other sites and museums. Athens Backpackers is an award-winning hostel in Plaka with spacious dorms and private rooms, nightly events and a fantastic view of the sunset over the Acropolis from their rooftop bar.
Berlin is known to host the fastest marathon in the world. Thanks to its super-flat terrain, competitors zip though this lively European city at lightning-fast speeds. In fact, the six fastest finishing times ever all happened in this race, with the top spot belonging to Dennis Kimetto from Kenya, whose time was 2:02:57 in 2014.
The Berlin Marathon happens in November and around 40,000 people compete. It can be difficult to get a spot due to many professional athletes vying to run in record times. Keep in mind that if you can’t get a place during the initial registration phase you can still sign up through charity partners or travel tour operators.
Where to stay? You won’t want to miss out on exploring this incredible city after the race. Read our guide to living like a local in Berlin to learn more about the place. Cityhostel Berlin is a great choice if you want to stay very near the race—it’s only 10 minutes’ walk from Tiergarten Park, where the race starts and finishes.
Walt Disney World Marathon
It’s easy to see why the Walt Disney World Marathon is considered the most magical race on earth. Runners get to race through four Florida-based Walt Disney World theme parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Taking place in January, runners can register on the website through charity partners or travel packages. This is the ideal race to incorporate into a family vacation where all members can experience the thrill of Disney World in one way or another.
The Boston Marathon is a major race that trails through several cities in the greater Boston area. This classic marathon provides enough gruelling hilly terrain matched with an urban backdrop to keep even the most seasoned runners in focus.
In 2013 the Boston Marathon was hit by tragedy when it was subject to a terrorist attack. Two explosions occurred towards the end of the course, killing three spectators and injuring hundreds of participants and supporters. The race has since become as symbol of inspiration and hope as many of those who were injured and even lost limbs have returned to compete in the race since then. The race takes place on Patriot’s Day in April and registration details will be announced for 2017 on the website over the next few months.
Where to stay? Boston is an amazing city that’s full of interesting historical sites as well as a great social scene and plenty of shopping. The downtown, Waterfront and Back Bay areas are all popular with visitors. HI Boston is ideally located just between the Theatre District and Back Bay, just 15 minutes’ walk from the finish line. And with free Wi-Fi and free breakfast, they will help set you up for the day!
This race is a favourite with runners thanks to how well it is organized. The entire process is said to be one of the most pleasant in Europe and it all takes place in the stunning Scandinavian capital. The medieval city is made up of fourteen islands with ever-changing scenery to stop you from getting bored on the route.
The Stockholm Marathon takes place in June and registration for this year’s race is still open on the website. If you’re serious about running and want a well-thought-out course with a great atmosphere, this is one to sign up to.
Where to stay? Trendy Stockholm is a top city break for young tourists despite being relatively expensive. You’ll find museums, galleries and cool bars galore throughout the city. There’s tons of highly rated hostels centrally located to the route; Hostel Dalagatan is one of the highest-rated and has great private rooms with underfloor heating and free linen (rare in Scandinavian hostels).
The London Marathon is a classic city race that marathoners from all over adore competing in. Runners cite the atmosphere, manageable terrain and a route boasting an array of unmistakable landmarks as the best things about the race and the incentives that keep some returning every year. It attracts around 36,000 participants each spring with many more turning up to support the runners. You can enter through a ballot, charity partner, club or specific category.
London is an easy city to get to from most countries, especially in Europe, making it an ideal first race to travel for. Celebrities and even members of the British Royal Family have competed in this race, so you know you’ll be in good company.
Where to stay? Stay somewhere central like Kensington for easy access to all of the sites if it is your first time in the city. Or else you could check out East London for an inexpensive and trendy alternative. Astor Hyde Park is one of many top-rated hostels in central London and has ensuite private and dorm rooms, all right next to beautiful Hyde Park.
Thanks to NWY69, Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, DK Snaps, Sam Howzit, Paul-in-London, Peppe702, Tudre and Kostas Limitsios for use of their great images under the Creative Commons license.