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The best marathons in the world!

New York Marathon
Standing out in the crowd at the New York Marathon

If you’re a marathon runner and would love to take on some of the best races in the world over the weirdest, wildest, most gruelling or most picturesque countryside on the planet, this post is for you!

If running the world’s largest marathons is on your bucket list, and maybe some smaller, quirky ones too, you will find this post helpful – all in one place – the world’s best marathons in chronological order, with links to the websites and all the info you need to plan your training schedule.

We start in March – let me know if you know of other marathons that should be included in this list.

Tokyo Marathon, March

The Tokyo International Marathon started in 2007 and is the first major of the year. It is one of the most prestigious and renowned marathons in the world, and part of the six of World Major Marathons, along with London, Berlin, Chicago, Boston and New York City. You’ll find about 37,000 amateurs and elite runners racing in Tokyo. Do all six majors and you’ll be the proud owner of the Six Star Medal.

Paris Marathon, April

Join 50,000 people in the 5th largest marathon in the world (but not officially a “major”), starting from the Champs-Elysees and running past all the major sites and sights of Paris.

If you find yourself in need of refreshment on Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris, runners are encouraged to pick up sweet and salty foods from stationed around the course. Expect water, bananas, gingerbread slices, dried fruit, sugar cubes, pretzels, crackers.

For those visiting Paris around the great race, I have a few posts you might like including these fabulous rooftop bars and restaurants with a view. We just had the most wonderful dinner at Les Georges, on the roof of Centre Pompidou, a most unassuming building from the outside, but quirky and cool on the inside with amazingly attentive wait-staff.

London Marathon, April

The TCS London Marathon starts in Greenwich and runs through south London, crossing the River Thames at Tower Bridge, past Big Ben and parliament buildings to end at St James Park. It’s one of the six world majors and more than 48,000 runners finished in 2023.

I lived in London for nearly five years and it’s like a second home to me. You might like this post on my picks for what to do in London, and what not to bother with.

Running the London Marathon with Big Ben watching over
Running the London Marathon with Big Ben watching over

Boston Marathon, April

Held on Patriots Day each year, the B.A.A. Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world having started in 1897. It is one of the World Majors and draws around 30,000 runners and about half a million spectators who brave the chilly morning to cheer on their friends or catch a glimpse of the fastest elite runners in the world.

Stormtrooper running marathon
How on earth did this guy complete in this get up??

The Great Wall Marathon, May

Climb, walk, run, drag yourself over the 5164 steps and shuffle along the Great Wall of China and work those muscles.

My friend Kim ran this race and it said it’s more like a 42km shuffle, as there are so many people squeezing through the narrow path and scrambling up and down steep steps. And goodness, those steps are steep! I climbed them for about 100m on my China trip! If you are heading to China, you’ll like my post on things to know before you go to China.

Great wall marathon
Puffing over the Great Wall!

The Big Five Marathon, June

You will literally run through a big game reserve in South Africa with nothing to separate you from the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. No fences, no rivers, just you and your Nikes. This marathon is so popular you need to register a year in advance.

Big 5 marathon
Run like a gazelle – or giraffe!

Sydney Marathon, September

Run alongside 35,000 people over the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge through the Botanic Garden, around the Rocks, into Hyde Park and finishing at the Sydney Opera House. There are also family fun runs held on the same day.

Marathon crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge
Marathon crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge

Berlin Marathon, September

The BMW Berlin-Marathon celebrates 50 years in 2024. Last year two new world record times were set here, on this fast course due to its flatness. Nearly 50,000 people run this race, the flattest of the world’s major marathons. You’ll run through the city and finish at the Brandenburg Gate.

Tigst Assefa runs world record 2023
Tigst Assefa runs women’s world record 2023. ©SCC EVENTS/Jean-Marc Wiesner.

Chicago Marathon, October

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is proud to have been the race that set a new world record in 2023 by Kenyan runner Kelvin Kiptum who ran 2:00:35. The race, which began in 1977 and now is one of the biggest marathons in the world and had around 47,000 runners last year. It starts and ends in Grant Park, and winds through 29 neighborhoods.

I love Chicago and have visited several times, not to run around it though! Check out my post on the best things to do in Chicago if you’re looking for ideas for great carbo loading pizza and skyhigh drinks.

Auckland Marathon, October

Start in Devonport on Auckland’s north shore with 17,000 marathon runners, over the Auckland Harbour Bridge for spectacular city views, and finish at Victoria Park, or you can do the half marathon or the kids fun run.

best marathons
Over the Auckland Harbour Bridge
The NY marathon rhino
Imagine running the whole way in this get up?!

New York Marathon, November

The TCS New York City Marathon is probably the most iconic marathon in the world. It is the world’s largest marathon with around 50,000 runners, plus wheechair athletes and is held on the first Sunday of November.

The marathon race starts on Staten Island, then you’ll cross the bridge and run through Brooklyn, Queens, over to Manhatten and up to the Bronx, before doubling back on yourseld to the finish line in Central Park, as two million spectators cheer you on.

My brother ran the NYC Marathon one time and my husband and I went over to watch him. We missed him running live and caught up in the melee of road closures around the finish. See New York Road Runners for all the info you need.

New York is cold in early November, so I have more tips and helpful info this post! Tips for race day at the New York Marathon >>>

New York marathon runners on Verrazzano Bridge
New York marathon runners on Verrazzano Bridge. (Pic created with AI. What do you think?)

Athens Marathon, November

This is where the first marathon started over 2500 years ago! Hopefully the originators fate won’t happen to you, but the very first marathon was run by a man named Phillipides who ran from Marathon to Athens (42.195 km) to announce that the Greeks had defeated the Persians. He then collapsed and died. If running a full marathon scares you, join in for the 5k or 10k run.

Athens Marathon stadium
The ancient stadium in Athens

Queenstown Marathon, New Zealand, November

If you’re looking for a smaller marathon but a truly memorable one, it has to be New Zealand’s newest and hands down, most spectacular Queenstown marathon for the scenery! This running festival also includes a half marathon, 10km and 3km runs for the whole family between the Crown Ranges and the Remarkables and runs through the best of Queenstown.

Need tips on how to get ‘marathon ready’? This post has some great advice for how to prepare for your first marathon including training plans, fuel for the day, footwear and more. Click here for the FAQs about marathons

How long is a marathon? A full marathon is 26.2 miles, or 42.195 kilometres (it’s usually rounded up to 42.2km).

What is the world record time for completing the marathon? World records are beaten all the time and in November 2023 this prestigious title went to Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum who ran 2:00:35 at the Chicago Marathon. The fastest woman is Ethiopian Tigist Assefa with a time of 2:11:53.

Where are the world’s fastest marathons? If you want to have every chance of running a new PB, you’ll want the flattest marathon to aim for. Berlin has the fastest course and is where records are broken for exactly this reason.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!