Without boundaries or language barriers, running is a universal sport that can truly take you anywhere. Run or watch any marathon and you’ll see the power of the human body and the unity of our spirits alive and well. It’s a distance that tests the grit and determination of its participants — from the elites to the back-of-the-packers — to just keep moving.
According to Running USA’s Annual Marathon Report, there were more than 1,100 marathons in the U.S. alone in 2015. But we’re ready to think outside our borders to see just how far we can go. That’s why we’re packing up our running gear and stamping our passports to seek out the ultimate destinations to run 26.2 miles (or 42.195 kilometers!) in the world.
These 30 international marathons (listed by 2018 date) top our list as the most popular, exciting, inspirational, crowd-favorite bucket list races you’ll find on the planet.
The 30 of the Best Marathons in the World
Location: Marrakech, Morocco
Date: January 28, 2018
If you’re looking for an adventure that’s a bit farther off the beaten path, you’ll find it in the colorful, enchanting land of Morocco. This 29th annual small, no-frills (as in there are no bathrooms) race offers serious speedsters a flat and fast course paired with mild weather. And where else can you say you took a destination run through olive groves and orange trees and past roadside camels with the snow-covered Atlas Mountains looming in the distance?
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Date: February 25, 2018
This annual World Marathon Majors race has been synonymous with top-notch organization since it began in 2007. The temps may be chilly on the mostly flat, urban course, but the unwavering support of 10,000 volunteers (called TEAM SMILE) and enthusiasm of 1.6 million spectators (handing out everything from chocolates to tomatoes!) creates a marathon that’s warm and welcoming to 36,000 runners from around the world.
Location: Moshi, Tanzania
Date: March 4, 2018
No, you won’t actually climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in this 16th annual marathon. Save that for another day! But the world’s highest freestanding mountain will tower over the race’s 6,500 runners, including many locals. The weather’s hot and the halfway point’s slope can be hard, but the beauty of “Kill,” its lush, green surroundings and the energy of local villagers help racers coast into the downhill finish. See website for various travel itineraries and pricing.
Location: Rome, Italy
Date: April 8, 2018
The course of this 24th annual marathon reads like a must-see list of Rome’s most alluring attractions. Ditch the travel book and let 19,000 runners be your Eternal City guides on the loop that starts and ends near the Colosseum. The tour includes stretches along the Tiber River, through charming piazzas and over cobblestone streets. Keep an eye out for historic sights like St. Peter’s Basilica, Circus Maximus, the Pyramid of Cestius and the Spanish Steps.
Location: Boston, MA
Date: April 16, 2018
If there’s any day that epitomizes the strength, endurance and hope of runners (and an entire city), it’s Marathon Monday in Beantown. Even after the horrific bombings at the 2013 race, more than 30,000 wicked fast runners (and 500,000 steadfast spectators) continue to celebrate the world’s oldest contested marathon and its historic course — from the start in Hopkinton to the demanding Heartbreak Hill to the exhilarating finish on Boylston Street.
Location: London, England
Date: April 22, 2018
Like many great ideas, the concept of the London Marathon started over a few pints at a pub. Today, 35 years since the first race, it’s a beloved mainstay counted among the World Marathon Majors. What hasn’t changed much is the flat and fast course. More than 35,000 runners will cruise along the River Thames, cross Tower Bridge and catch sights like Big Ben and Buckingham Place — while some of the best fans around cheer them on.
Location: Carmel, CA
Date: April 30, 2018
It’s the world’s largest rural marathon and a highlight on just about every list of top marathons there is. While the energy and organization of the 4,500 runners is always on point, it’s the sweeping Pacific Ocean vistas that are nothing short of breathtaking — and the reason the race sells out so quickly. Next spring marks the 33rd anniversary of the point-to-point, hilly course along Highway 1 and through the redwood forests of seven California State Parks.
Location: Tianjin, China
Date: May 19, 2018
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime race (but don’t care about a PR), tackle the 5,164 steps of one of the world’s most famous landmarks. The hot and humid weather is taxing, the steep climbs are intense, and the views of the Great Wall snaking through the countryside are dramatic. But many participants say it’s the glimpse into the surrounding rural villages (and their spirited spectators) that stay with you for years to come. See website for travel itineraries and pricing.
Location: Lorne, Australia
Date: May 20, 2018
This race is a true beauty, traveling along one of the world’s most iconic coastlines. But it can also be a beast! The point-to-point course is winding, hilly and is technically 45K in distance to the finish in Apollo Bay (although you’ll get a finish time at the 42K mark, too). Think of it as a little bit of extra time to listen to the waves crash below, take in all the incredible sights, and enjoy the friendly, small-town vibe buzzing all around.
Location: Cancale, France
Date: May 26, 2018
Runners may be able to see the majestic Mont Saint-Michel from the starting line, but the island abbey — and one of France’s most famous sites — is still a whole marathon away at the finish line in Normandy. Five thousand participants keep their eyes on the prize as they travel through rustic seaside villages (known for their mussels and oysters) and the French countryside in this flat, point-to-point, early evening race.
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date: June 2, 2018
Even when it’s not hosting the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro is one big party. With views of the city’s chic and sexy beaches, the hardest part of this marathon might just be staying the course. The sandy shores of Ipanema and Copacabana can look very inviting. Expect lively crowds, and views of the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, to welcome racers into the finish line before the real fiestas begin.
Location: Cusco, Peru
Date: June 2-10, 2018; August 4-12, 2018
Next summer’s scheduled treks celebrate the 20th anniversary of “the most difficult marathon in the world.” While the 26.2 miles along rocky Inca trails, tunnels and steps is a true marathon distance, you won’t see any bibs or spectators along the route. But for the experienced trail runner, it’s a strenuous (gain of 10,400 feet and loss of 11,000 feet in elevation) and rewarding journey to the ancient lost city of Machu Picchu. See website for travel itineraries and pricing.
Location: Tromsø, Norway
Date: June 16, 2018
Pack your favorite shades because the sun never sets during the most northern race in the world. With 24 hours of daylight in the summer, this unique evening marathon can start at 8:30 p.m! Sure, you have to deal with possible freezing temperatures and a few crossings of the grueling Bridge of Tromsø, but you might also spot some polar bears hiding out in the snowy mountains, too.
Location: Limpopo, South Africa
Date: June 23, 2018
There are many renowned South African races, including the epic Comrades and Two Oceans ultramarathons, but only this trail marathon runs right through the thick of the African savannah — and its wildlife! No fences, no barriers, nothing separates runners from the elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards along the tough, hilly, safari-like course. That’s one way to keep you moving! Visit website for travel itineraries and pricing.
Location: Lindau Island, Germany
Date: July 10, 2018
Want to check not one, not two, but three countries off your marathon bucket list? We give you permission to do so at this picture-perfect race that starts in Germany, runs through Austria, takes a quick stop in Switzerland, and finishes back up in Austria. More than half of the seriously flat course runs along the vast Lake Constance, but there are also a few cobblestone roads, gravel trails and peaceful passages through reeds and woods.
Location: Yulara, Australia
Date: July 28, 2018
The Australian Outback earns a spot on many buckets lists for its vast, off-the-grid appeal. But runners can cover 26.2 miles of “the bush” by foot at this adventure race in the land of the Red Earth. Go down under (and off-road), along fire trails and over soft-sand dunes. Some say the terrain makes it a challenging run, but the sights of the colossal Ayers Rock around the 36K mark are the ultimate reward.
Location: Reykjavík, Iceland
Date: August 18, 2018
If this enchanting loop course through Iceland’s capital city looks like a breath of fresh air, that’s because it is. The area’s natural hot springs create some of the cleanest air in the world. Soak it in and join nearly 1,000 other runners on a magical adventure along the bustling city streets and past picturesque Tjörnin pond, snow-covered mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and woodlands.
Location: Interlaken, Switzerland
Date: September 7-8, 2018
Get lifted at this demanding marathon that races to the top of one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world. Don’t be fooled by the first flat 10K along the lovely Lake Brienz in Interlaken. No hill training can prepare you for the relentless trail ascents to come as you approach the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. The mountaintop finish is legendary and its panoramic views at 2,100 meters above sea level aren’t soon forgotten.
Location: Pauillac, France
Date: September 8, 2018
Sign us up, s’il vous plait! In addition to French wine at more than 20 aid stations, runners will discover a bucolic loop course through vineyards with 8,500 new drinking buddies (dressed in hilarious costumes). Expect everything from entertaining acrobats at the start to all-you-can-eat oysters, cheese and ice cream in the last 4K. As quirky as this race is, keep in mind it’s still a marathon and you do have to run at some point.
Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Date: September 8, 2018
It’s only in its seventh year, but this international race is already making a big impact. The eco-friendly race gets you in touch with nature as you pass luminescent lakes and cliffside waterfalls in postcard-like landscapes. There’s no prize money for winners, but for each of the 1,000 runners who finish the mountainous course in Torres del Paine National Park, the race plants a tree in their honor as part of the Corre y Reforesta Campaign.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: September 16, 2018
Want to drop time off your PR or earn a BQ? Do it at one of the fastest marathons in the world (with 40,000 of your closest friends). The World Marathon Majors event is so fast, the 2013 winner Wilson Kipsang of Kenya set a world record of 2:03:23 that year. The pancake-flat roads, slingshot-like turns, and 80 rockin’ bands should help you push the pace toward your own personal best.
Location: Buffalo, NY / Ontario, Canada
Date: October 14, 2018
Get your paperwork in order for this border-crossing marathon! The speedy and scenic course starts in the U.S. and finishes in Canada (you’ll get cleared by customs at packet pick-up). After a short stretch in Buffalo, 1,500 runners make their way over the International Peace Bridge (the only hill on the course). Then it’s into Ontario for 18 miles on Niagara Parkway before a classic photo finish at the edge of the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls.
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Date: October 15, 2018
The always-popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series makes a stop in this coastal European city. With more than 30 live bands on the course, runners take on a flat, point-to-point race that starts in the beachy town of Cascais, travels along the banks of the Tagus River and ends in central Lisbon, where you’ll marvel at the rich architecture of its historic churches, the Castle of São Jorge and the stunning Vasco de Gama Bridge (Europe’s longest bridge).
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Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: October 21, 2018
Venice of the North has a little something for everyone — from flower gardens and windmills to its more liberal, “anything goes” side of the city. Its annual marathon is a diverse experience, too, as 16,000 runners cruise through a fast urban and rural course. There’s the thrilling start and finish at the 1928 Olympic Stadium, a trek along the Amstel River and Vondelpark, and a pass through the heart of Rijksmuseum, home to famous art by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and more.
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Date: October 28, 2018
This 39th annual marathon, which takes place on Ireland’s October Bank Holiday, gets the party weekend started early with a free breakfast 5K, Irish music and dancing the day before the big race. Earn your Guinness with 13,000 runners on an ever-changing loop course through the city’s diverse parks and neighborhoods. One thing that doesn’t change along the way: the charm of the rowdy, local crowds and their “well done!” cheers all morning long.
Location: New York, NY
Date: November 4, 2018
Be a part of 26.2 of the most sought-after miles in history at the world’s largest and most popular marathon. From Sinatra’s signature “New York, New York” starting line send-off to the world-famous Central Park finish line, more than 50,000 runners (including 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi) will chase down their dreams amid the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple’s five boroughs.
27. Athens Marathon
Location: Athens, Greece
Date: November 11, 2018
Ever wonder how the marathon got its name? Back in 490 BC, legend has it the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon. Upon his arrival, all those miles later, he died of exhaustion. This race lets 13,000 marathoners follow his footsteps, over challenging hills and into the finishing arch at the white marble Panathenaic Stadium, with proud Greeks shouting “bravo!” the whole way.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Date: November 18, 2018
Expect a hot night in the city when 2,500 runners line up at the dazzling Grand Palace, Bangkok’s most famous landmark and home to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. That’s right, this loop marathon through Thailand’s capital starts at 2 a.m. local time to beat the heat! The aid stations, filled with friendly local volunteers (and lots of watermelon!) should help you keep cool as you pass the course’s many cultural sites in the “Land of a Thousand Smiles.”
Location: Union Glacier, Antarctica
Date: November 2018 (to be announced)
Are you one of those (extra crazy) marathoners who wants to run one on every continent? For the coldest, windiest, highest and driest of them all, choose the only footrace within the Antarctic Circle. Expect just around 50 brave men and women to pile on layers for this extreme adventure over the solid (yet serene) ice course. The camaraderie is what makes it such an epic experience, they say. Not even penguins live that far south.
Location: George Town, Cayman Islands
Date: December 2, 2018
It’s an early 5 a.m start for this race, but who cares when you’re waking up on a tropical Caribbean island? This 16th annual marathon is small, yet boasts some of the friendliest, most personalized vibes around. (Event staff will even greet participants at the airport!) Run two loops of the super flat course, grab an ice cold Caybrew beer at the finish, and then bask beachside for the ultimate recovery. It’s supposed to be a runcation, right?
On the selection process:
To compile this list, we tapped into our network of running contacts around the country — including popular bloggers, experienced coaches and knowledgeable writers and editors — and asked them to think big, and outside our own 50 states. While we include many established and prominent marathons (like New York, Berlin and Tokyo), we also shine a light on bucket list races where the destination is more important than the finish time (like Antarctica, the Great Wall of China and the Australian Outback). With any of our top race lists, we believe it’s most important what the runner has to say, which is why we spend so much time researching online reviews to confirm our selections are based on the participants’ positive experiences, the reputation of the race and the unique value they offer to the marathoner.
Originally published August 2014. Updated October 2017.