Europe’s Best Bucket List Marathons
It’s one of the biggest and most popular events in the Olympics, and what’s more it’s one that us regular folk take part in in our tens of thousands every year. The Marathon is a bucket list experience in itself, something that everyone who’s managed to complete even one knows all too well… But if you’ve caught the bug you’ll know that running a marathon in a new destination is a pretty big lure to keep doing them!
In honour of the Olympics, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best Marathons around our network. Check a few of these off your running bucket list…
Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Marathon
Fly To: Lisbon
It’s fast, flat and very scenic, but in addition to that, Lisbon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon is fun. You won’t just get your motivation from a cheering crowd, but also from the live music all along the course that will keep the runners’ AND the crowds’ feet pounding the pavement.
Lisbon is still pretty warm even in October, so a nice early (8:30am) start means you avoid more of that overhead afternoon sun. The race starts in Cascais, a gorgeous little coastal town outside Lisbon that’s well worth visiting for a night or two before the run, then makes its way along the famous Portuguese coastline on the Marginal Road and along the Targus River, passing lots of incredible World Heritage Sites along the way. You finish the race in Lisbon city centre, at which point we advise you to go eat your weight in well-deserved Pasteis de Belem.
Fly To: Rome Ciampino/Fiumicino
This one is a run through the history of Roman civilisation, and it’s so beautiful that you might just forget the aches and pains in your limbs as your weary feet take you from one incredible, iconic sight to the next. Starting at the Colosseum, you’ll make your way along the Tiber and across a few of its bridges, veering off to run through and around the sights and landmarks that make Rome one of the most visited cities on the planet. It’s epic, and yeah you might feel a little bit like an actual Gladiator (without the fights-to-the-death).
One thing to watch out for is the surface – there are quite a lot of cobblestones which are a little uneven and can be hell on your feet, as well as dangerous to ankles. This is very well made up for by the fact that you are in Rome, and carb-loading before the race couldn’t be more of an absolute pleasure.
Fly To: London Stansted/Gatwick/Luton
The world’s second biggest Marathon is also one of the Majors, saw its millionth runner finish the race in April 2016, and is extremely popular among runners – so much so that it’s quite a difficult one to even register for, let alone actually run. But what a run it is; the ultimate whistle-stop tour of one of the most landmark-saturated cities on earth – you’ll pass Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London (and across Tower Bridge), the Shard, the London Eye, London Bridge, Buckingham Palace and much more. The buzz is amazing too, and the whole route is lined with spectators who will roar encouragement at you throughout the race (remember to get your name on your running vest so you can have a little personalised support!).
Fly To: Dinard / Lorient
With around 6,000 runners this is one of the smaller events to make the list, and its relatively tiny turn-out is just one of the charming things about it. It’s quite a magical little Marathon, this Mont Saint-Michel run – the finishing point can be seen from the starting line, and there are lots of beautiful French villages to see as you make your way along the Normandy coast from Cancale to the famous, fairy-tale island commune of Mont Saint-Michel.
Running by the sea is a big plus here too – there’s just something about the air and the sea-breeze that helps you feel just that little bit fresher. And besides, when you finally finish, you won’t have far to go to throw yourself into the English Channel and soothe your aching limbs.
Midnight Sun Tromsø
Fly To: Oslo (further travel required)
This one’s right up at the very top of Norway, so we can get you as far as Oslo, but you’re on your own from there! Don’t worry, it’s very do-able and it’s very worth it.
This marathon takes place towards the end of June every year, right when Norway’s skies stay brightest the longest. The marathon starts at around 8:30pm in Tromso city centre, and it’s a real beauty of a race. The Arctic Cathedral with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains , Tromsø Bridge, and all that famous Norwegian natural beauty will give you plenty of visual treats to distract you from the fatigue/pain.
Fly To: Marrakech
Ok, so not quite Europe but it’s in our Network and there’s no way we’re leaving it off the list…. The first thing you need to know about this race is that the Marrakech marathon takes place at the end of January, which is one of the coolest times of the year in the Moroccan capital. That said, it can still hit around 19/20°C, so be prepared for a sweaty one (and it’s a good idea to bring your own water too).
This is a beautiful Marathon that takes it’s runners on a single lap, along the side of the city’s old walls and through the Menara Gardens. The roads are dusty and lined with palm, olive and orange trees, and the Atlas Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to the rose-coloured city. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a Hamam experience and a huge tagine afterwards!
Fly to: Berlin
Keep the pace at one of the world’s fastest, biggest, flattest, and best organised Marathons (and one of the Marathon Majors), and do it in one of Europe’s coolest cities. The BMW Berlin Marathon attracts some 40,000 runners and over a million spectators, and you’ll run past some of the city’s best sights like the Reichstag, Berliner Dom, Potsdamer Platz, and of course the Brandernburg Gate, close to the race’s finish line. This has been the route since the 1990 marathon, Berlin’s first race since the Wall came down.
If you want to break a record or beat your personal best, this could very well be the marathon at which you do it – quite a few records, and five of the ten fastest marathons ever run were run in Berlin.
Fly to: Athens
This is where it all began. The inspiration for the world’s most famous endurance race came from Greek mythology, when Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens with the news of Athenian victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Spoiler alert: the run kills him.
But don’t worry, he didn’t have the rehydration gels, physiotherapists, nipple protection or fancy trainers that are available to today’s runners. You might feel like you want to die, but you’ll probably be grand. You can follow in his footsteps at the Athens Authentic Marathon along with some 13,000 other runners
Le Marathon du Medoc
Fly to: Bordeaux
The Marathon du Medoc is essentially a long-distance booze-up. At 26.2 miles long, it is most definitely still a marathon – but it’s one of the few ones that will see you stumble across the finish live for reasons other than pure exhaustion. No, it’ll be because you’re absolutely out of your mind on fine French wine.
This particular marathon has 23 refreshment stations along its route, but rather than the normal water stops you’d expect to find, these are wine stations. You’ll also find sustenance in the shape of French delicacies like oysters, steak, cheese, and foie gras. Don’t expect to break any personal records here – well, perhaps some boozing and eating ones, but not any marathon times.
Fly to: Basel
As if running a marathon wasn’t an epic enough achievement in and of itself, this feat of Alpine endurance is an actual, bone fide uphill struggle. It has a finish line that’s almost 2km higher in altitude than its starting line, with most of that incline in the second half of the race. Now you might think that a runner would have to be utterly insane to want to do this, but there are two very important things to bear in mind –
- That a certain amount of madness is required to want to complete ANY marathon, and
- That with great altitude comes great natural beauty.
This marathon takes you through some of Switzerland’s most incredible beauty, and while your legs and lungs might be on fire as you make your way through (and up) the mountains, the sight of the Eiger Glacier and those gorgeous snow-capped Alps might have a cooling effect!