Choosing to run one of the top marathons in the world will help ensure that you have a great race experience and make the most of all of the hard work and dedication you’ve put into marathon training.
So, what are the top marathons in the world? Is there a list of the best marathons in the world? And, what makes a marathon one of the “best marathons in the world”?
In this article, we have put together some of our picks for the best marathons in the world with a brief description as to why you might want to choose one of these international marathons for your next (or first!) stab at the 26.2-mile distance.
What Are The Best Marathons In the World?
There certainly isn’t a single list of the best marathons in the world, as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of top marathons to choose from.
For the purposes of our list of the best marathons worldwide, we focused on international marathons outside of the US since we have compiled various lists of the best marathons in the US.
This is not to say that the best US marathons don’t hold a candle to the best international marathons, but with so many top marathons in the world to choose from, we decided to focus this list on the best marathons in the world outside of the USA.
You can find some of our recommendations for the best marathons in the US here.
Our List Of The Best Marathons In the World
Although highly subjective and far from comprehensive, here is our attempt at a good “best marathons in the world list“ for runners of different levels, marathon preferences, and geographical interests:
All of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors could easily earn a spot on our list.
#1: Lisbon Marathon, Lisbon, Portugal
The EDP Lisbon Marathon is one of the most popular marathons in Portugal, Europe, and the world. It draws about 5,000 international runners from over 100 different countries, as well as many native Portuguese participants. Crossing that finish line is really special.
Here are some of the top reasons to run the Lisbon Marathon:
- The course winds its way through three historical cities, Cascais, Oeiras, and Lisbon. Runners are given a unique “insider’s view” of these historic towns, old buildings, monuments, and quaint neighborhoods.
- The race course is stunning—all 26.2 miles travel along the sea and/or river—and is mostly flat.
- Race day temperatures are usually 50 to 60°F, which is perfect for marathon running.
- Affordable place to visit.
- Welcoming community.
#2: Loch Ness Marathon & Festival of Running, Inverness, Scotland
If you’ve always wanted to go to Scotland, we highly recommend checking out the Loch Ness Marathon.
Here are some of the reasons why this is one of the best marathons in the world:
- This fall marathon has optimal weather for running, with temperatures usually around 47 to 55°F.
- The point-to-point marathon course has gorgeous scenery with views of mountains, lush pastures, forests, and the namesake Loch Ness.
- A manageable field size of about 3000 marathon runners means that the course is not overly congested, yet there are enough runners so that it doesn’t feel totally desolate (though the early parts are quite quiet).
- Very friendly atmosphere and residents in Inverness.
#3: Dublin Marathon, Dublin, Ireland
The Dublin marathon earned a spot on our list of the best marathons in the world for the following reasons:
- Great fall marathon with perfect running weather hovering just around 50°F most years.
- Gently rolling hills with a fairly easy course.
- Stunning scenery of the lush Irish countryside as well as the culture and fun found in the city of Dublin.
- Very friendly locals welcome international runners to their city, and there is great crowd support.
- One of the biggest marathons in the world outside of the Marathon Majors means that the event is very well organized, and the course is filled with enthusiastic runners and spectators.
#4: Marathon du Médoc, Pauillac, France
The Marathon du Médoc is consistently rated one of the top marathons in the world by participants every year.
This is one of the most popular European marathons, and the race is capped at 8,500 runners and regularly sells out, so you will want to register early.
Here are some of the top reasons to run the Marathon Du Médoc, often referred to as just ‘Médoc’:
- There is a yearly theme, which can be a fun way to celebrate the marathon running experience and choose a unique outfit for race day.
- A mix of paved and unpaved surfaces provides variety for your legs, so this is certainly a more challenging marathon course.
- Great for wine lovers because this gorgeous international marathon course will have you run through over 50 chateaux and 20 wine stops.
- Friendly atmosphere and a great destination marathon for international runners.
#5: Reykjavik Marathon, Reykjavik, Iceland
Most of the best marathons in the United States and around the world occur in the spring and fall due to the milder temperatures.
However, if your training doesn’t align well with running a marathon in these seasons or you want to add another marathon to your yearly race calendar, the Reykjavik Marathon is a great option, as it is a summer marathon that takes place in August.
Here are some other perks:
- Optimal temperatures for marathon running hover around 48 to 54°F.
- Smaller field size, usually around 1,000 runners, makes for a more intimate race experience with less stress than having to manage crowds.
- A flat, paved course lends itself well to running a marathon PR.
- Breathtaking scenery along the marathon course since most of it meanders along the water.
- Iceland is an often overlooked destination but a great place to travel and run.
- This marathon takes place during the country‘s biggest holiday, so you can experience a lot of culture and celebration when choosing this top international marathon.
#6: Run Rome The Marathon, Rome, Italy
The Rome Marathon is one of the best spring marathons in the world. However, there are about 6 km of the marathon course that traverses historic cobblestone streets, so this is something to be mindful of when choosing this race.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Ideal running temperatures are usually in the 50s (Fahrenheit).
- Large city marathon helps bring energy to the race course, and there are plenty of people to run with.
- Stunning architecture and history surround you over the marathon course with major attractions like the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and St. Peter’s Square.
- Excellent destination marathon since Rome, and Italy at large, has so many wonderful sites to explore.
#7: Australian Outback Marathon, Alice Springs, Australia
Australia is a top vacation destination for many people, and you can combine running with traveling if you choose to run the Australian outback marathon.
Here are some other highlights,
- Summer marathon means that it may be easier to fit this into your race calendar if you have a spring marathon, fall marathon, or other spring and fall racing goals.
- Unpaved marathon is great if you do not like the road runner.
- Small race size.
- Luxury marathon experience must be booked as a complete package, including accommodations and food through a running travel agency Traveling Fit, which helps ensure that the marathon experience will be everything you need it to be as a runner.
- Opportunity to run across the iconic red sand in the Australian Outback.
#8: World’s Fastest Marathon, Pradollano, Spain
If you are looking for the fastest route, it makes sense to consider a marathon called just that.
Here are some other reasons to choose the World’s Fastest Marathon, which is held in Pradollano, Spain:
- 100% downhill marathon means you’re guaranteed to run a fast time, so keep in mind the course can trash your quads if you are unprepared.
- Tremendous views of the Sierra Nevada.
- Tiny marathon means that the course will never be crowded.
- Part of the Albatros Adventure Marathons, so you can set a running goal to participate in many of these unique international marathons. But you will have to purchase a tour package to run this marathon.
#9: Great Wall Marathon, Huangyaguan, China
This is not a fast course, but it is one of the most memorable marathons; you will love this pick on our list of the best marathons in the world.
- Very challenging course with over 5,100 steps along the Great Wall to navigate.
- An unforgettable opportunity to run on one of the most famous landmarks in the world.
- Small marathon size means that the race will not be particularly crowded even though the Great Wall of China is narrow in some parts.
#10: Petra Desert Marathon, Petra, Jordan
It is pretty rare to find the Petra Desert Marathon on a “best marathons in the world list,“ not because it’s not a fantastic marathon, but just because most people don’t think of Jordan when deciding where to travel.
However, there are many reasons to choose this as one of the top international marathons to run:
- Very challenging course with off-road terrain is great for trail runners or those who want to push themselves.
- Incredibly unique scenery in the Petra Desert.
- Small marathon makes for an intimate feel and very little stress or pressure from crowds on the course or when planning logistics for accommodations and traveling to and from this international marathon.
- Part of the Albatros Adventure Marathons, so you can set a running goal to participate in many of these unique international marathons. But you will have to purchase a tour package to run this race.
#11: Antarctica Marathon & Half Marathon, King George Island, Antarctica
If you are looking for the top marathons in the world and want to hit one on every continent, you will definitely want to consider the Antarctica Marathon.
- Tiny race with organization through the tour operator Marathon Tours & Travel will ensure you have a great race experience.
- It is one of the few places in the world where you can run a marathon and see penguins and icebergs along the course.
- Cold temperatures are ideal for runners who do not like running in the heat.
In wrapping up our exploration of the world’s best marathons, it’s impossible not to give a quick shout-out to the New York City Marathon, which captivates with its vibrant tour through the five boroughs, culminating in the famed Central Park.
Marathons challenge athletes and inspire with their history, like Athens, the birthplace of the marathon, and their world records, such as those shattered by legends like Eliud Kipchoge.
From the fast and flat courses of Tokyo, Japan, to the scenic routes in California and from the historic streets of Amsterdam. The world has a lot to offer!
One year, you could head to Berlin, Germany, and cross the Brandenburg Gate finish line; the next year, you could take on the testing ultramarathons of South Africa and the picturesque landscapes of Norway; each marathon offers a unique testament to the sport’s global appeal.
What marathon is on your bucket list? Have you ever run an international marathon? Let us know!
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