The 16 Best Marathons in the World, Ranked

The marathon is a sporting event unlike any other. Invented specifically for the modern Olympics and based on an ancient Greek myth (or loose history at best), it demands that runners traverse a distance of 26.2 miles as they race towards the finish line. The concept is simple, but the event takes months to train for and hours to run. It’s a feat of endurance, of mental stamina, and of strategy, both within your own body, and if you want to win, within your group of competitors. Completing a marathon is a bucket list accomplishment for many, who cross the finish in a mix of pain and euphoria vowing never to run another. And naturally, you’ll be looking for the best marathons in the world to run.

But somehow despite being merciless and grueling, the marathon has formed a massive following of loyal devotees who don’t just run one marathon but dozens if not hundreds. An entire ecosystem has been built around marathon runners who spend hours every week training and criss cross the globe to run some of the most prestigious races in the world. From New York and London to Kenya and Australia, marathons are hosted just about everywhere, and if there’s a race, there will be runners signing up to run it. 

Whether you’re a die hard marathoning veteran or have only run a half marathon and are considering your first marathon, however, picking your race can be very important. Here’s 16 of the world’s best marathons and reasons why you should run each and every one of them. 

Tokyo Marathon

Date: March 3, 2024

Location: Tokyo, Japan


It won’t take much time in the world of marathoning before you start to hear of the fabled Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of six races held each year around the world. These are the most prestigious events in the sport, and runners often spend years trying to tick all six off their list to earn a coveted Six Star Finisher medal. Tokyo is the first World Major held each year and sends runners on a 26.2-mile-long tour of the Japanese metropolis. If you’re coming from the US, I’d advise arriving a few days early to shake off the jetlag and drinking plenty of celebratory Asahi beer once you’ve finished. The Tokyo Marathon is considered one of the best marathons in the world.

Paris Marathon 

Date: April 7, 2024

Location: Paris, France


While not a World Major, the Paris Marathon is certainly one of Europe’s finest and a must-add to any racing bucket list. Anyone who has spent a day in Paris (or even an hour looking at a map of the city) can tell you what a sprawling treasure trove of landmarks the city is, and marathoners will get an extended walking/running tour of the city. Starting and ending near the Arc de Triomphe, the marathon course winds its way through numerous neighborhoods, through two sprawling parks, and of course right by the Eiffel Tower. Plus running a marathon in Paris gives you countless excuses to eat baguettes. The Paris Marathon is considered one of the best marathons in the world not an Abbott World Marathon Major.

Boston Marathon 

The Boston waterfront, home of the Boston Marathon - the oldest and best marathon in the world.
Photo by Jimmy Woo on Unsplash

Date: April 15, 2024

Location: Boston, MA, USA


The most prestigious and historic marathon in the world is Boston. The second of the six World Majors each year, it was founded before the marathon even had an established distance. The point-to-point course that now starts 26.2 miles outside of the city in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and flows down into Boston, has remained relatively unchanged in recent years but when it was founded in 1897, it was only 24.5 miles in length. The only major that demands entrants meet time qualifying standards, it’s difficult to gain entry into, but that only increases the allure. Many spend years just trying to gain entry. Boston Marathon is widely considered one of the most prestigious and best marathons in the world.

London Marathon

Date: April 21, 2024

Location: London, United Kingdom


In a rapid turnaround that spells out trouble for the brave souls hell-bent on running all six World Majors in one year, the London Marathon takes place less than a week after Boston. Like Paris, London showcases a wealth of famous landmarks with racers running from the East End of the city across Tower Bridge, along the Thames, past Big Ben, and towards their eventual finish near Buckingham Palace. The demand to run London is so high that the prospective runners often enter the lottery for years before gaining entrance, but those who get to run say it’s well worth the wait.

Big Sur International Marathon 

Views from the Big Sur Marathon, one of the best marathons in the world and in California.
Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Date: April 28, 2024

Location: Big Sur, CA, USA


While many of the world’s most popular marathons are big city road races through massive urban sprawls, Big Sur’s marathon is showcasing nature far more than anything man-made. Set along the California coast, the race guides runners over a series of rolling hills as they overlook the Pacific Ocean and wind through redwood forests. While not a trail marathon, Big Sur is about as close to trail marathon energy as you can get while steering clear of loose gravel. The Big Sur Marathon is considered one of the United States’ best marathons in the world.

The Great Wall Marathon 

Date: May 18, 2024

Location: Tianjin, China


Easily the most difficult race on this list is The Great Wall Marathon, which as the name suggests takes place at the Great Wall of China. BUT if you thought, “oh this probably just runs past the wall and gives you a pretty view of it,” you would be wrong. No, this marathon sends runners ON the Great Wall of China, and that means climbing up hundreds of stairs as the wall winds up and down through the mountains. While the whole 26.2-mile course isn’t on the wall, enough of it is to really wipe out competitors. If you’re running this one, you better add some stairmaster to your training regimen. The Great Wall of China is one of the best marathons in the world and is often on lists of Bucket Lists and Adventurous Race lists.

Midnight Sun Marathon 

Date: June 17, 2023

Location: Tromso, Norway


The Midnight Sun Marathon is unlike any other marathon on earth, and that’s true in multiple ways. First, as its name suggests, the annual marathon takes place in the middle of the night. Second, also as its name suggests, it is run in the sunlight. That’s because the Midnight Sun Marathon is hosted so far north in Norway that in the middle of summer, the sun doesn’t actually set. And that brings us to another unique aspect of the race: how remote the locale is. Getting to Tromso is quite the trek and will almost definitely require at least three different planes to get there. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and the closest you’ll ever probably get to Santa’s workshop.

Big Five Marathon 

Runner on the Big Five Marathon with African buffalo on the marathon course.
Photo courtesy of Big Five Marathon

Date: June 17, 2023

Location: Entabeni Game Reserve, South Africa


The Big Five Marathon sounds like a grand ole time until you actually think about it too much. The race, which runs through the savannah of South Africa near Johannesburg, is named after the “big five,” or the five animals you want to see on a safari. Those would be the elephant, rhino, leopard, African buffalo, and lion, all of which you could spy while running the marathon. Love to see a lion at the zoo. I’d love to see one less when I’m 24 miles into a race and there is no fence between us. You’ll either leave with a PR or you won’t leave at all. One of the best marathons in the world in Africa!

Medoc Marathon

Medoc, France home to Medoc Marathon, one of the best marathons in the world and in Europe.
Photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash

Date: September 2, 2023

Location: Medoc, France


The Medoc Marathon is not something to be rushed through. Like a good wine, it is something to be savored. The race, which is run yearly near Bordeaux, France, is just as much a celebration of the wine as it is the running, so a PR shouldn’t be your concern. Rather enjoy the wine and pasta dinner the night before, enjoy the wine and cheese after you finish, and enjoy sauntering through the vineyards as you count down the 26.2 miles. There’s nothing quite like getting drunk post-marathon in the lush French countryside. 

Sydney Marathon 

Date: September 17, 2023

Location: Sydney, Australia


There are only six Abbott World Major Marathons, but that won’t be the case for much longer. The series of prestigious events are looking to expand and add a seventh race to the roster. One of the top contenders is Australia’s premier marathon, which would be the first major in Oceania. Run in the spring each year (because seasons are swapped below the equator), the race sends runners on a tour of Sydney before ending near the famed Sydney Opera House. If you want to sign up, this might be the year to do it as it will certainly get flooded with Six Star Finishers trying to nab the seventh star if it’s approved. 

Berlin Marathon

Berlin Marathon, a World Abbott Marathon Major, one of the best marathons in the world.
Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

Date: September 24, 2023

Location: Berlin, Germany


Onto the (North American) fall World Majors, we have the 4th of the year: Berlin. What sets the German marathon apart from the other World Majors is just how fast the course is. It’s one of the fastest marathons in the world because of how flat the course is and the world record for the marathon is held by Eliud Kipchoge, who ran 2:01:09 on the course in 2022. Of course you’re probably not looking to break two horse, but even if you’re just looking to Boston qualify, Berlin and its famed finish near the Brandenburg Gate could make for a speedy race. 

Chicago Marathon

Date: October 8, 2023

Location: Chicago, IL, USA


The Chicago Marathon is another great option for a fast and flat course if you’re trying to shave minutes off your time. Chicago is also one of the easier World Majors to get in to, so if you’re looking to run all six, this might be a nice place to start. The race starts and ends downtown in Millenium Park with runners heading north, west, and south in a classic clover-shaped course, venturing back through the big city each time. The marathon ends near the famed Bean so you can get plenty of great photos, and then it’s off for a slice of deep dish pizza or a Chicago-style hot dog. 

Marine Corps Marathon

Washington DC, home to the Marine Corps Marathon, one of the best marathons in the world.
Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

Date: October 29, 2023

Location: Washington, DC, USA


When Oprah decided to run a marathon back in 1994, she chose the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, and I co-sign that choice. Unlike some marathons that have boring patches sprinkled throughout the course, there isn’t a single dull moment in this tour of the nation’s capital. Starting and ending near the Pentagon, the marathon does a full loop of the city, passing by landmark after landmark that include the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Mall, the Capitol, the White House, and the Potomac River. Plus at the end a Marine puts your medal around your neck which did make me cry when I ran it. 

New York City Marathon

New York City
Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

Date: November 5, 2023

Location: New York City, NY, USA


The last World Major run each year, but certainly not the least, is the NYC Marathon. Starting in Staten Island and winding through Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx before finishing in Manhattan, the race hits all five of New York’s boroughs. The fans in NYC (and especially along First Ave.) are notoriously rowdy, the views as you cross a series of bridges are spectacular, and the finish in Central Park is legendary. It’s the world’s largest marathon for a reason. It’s pretty damn amazing. 

Athens Marathon 

Date: November 12, 2023

Location: Athens, Greece


The first marathon, in both an ancient toga-wearing way and a modern running show way, is the Athens Marathon. Way back when a Greek man named Pheidippides supposedly ran from Marathon to Athens to bring good news of a wartime victory only to die upon arriving. Hundreds of years later, when planning the first modern Olympics, planners created the marathon as a new event unique to the Olympics and modeled it after the legend. The Athens Marathon, however, is still run each year with runners making their way from Marathon to Athens (but hopefully without the dying part).

Honolulu Marathon 

Date: December 10, 2023

Location: Honolulu, HI, USA


December is not a particularly popular time to host a race, what with the holidays, but the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii is the perfect way to start your vacation early. One of the biggest marathons in the US, the race allows runners to cruise along the island’s Pacific beaches with palm trees and mountain views providing plenty of beautiful scenery. And if you get a little hot and sweaty, no problem. Simply cross the finish line and head straight for a swim. There’s no better place to recover than the beach. 

What are the best marathons in the world?

The best marathons in the world are the marathons that attract the most runners and incorporate unique, memorable elements unique to a city’s identity. Races like the Paris Marathon, New York Marathon, and Great Wall of China Marathon often are categorized as a few of the best marathons in the world.

Which country has hosted best marathons in the world?

The United States as home to the New York Marathon, Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, and Big Sur Marathon is the country with the most world-class marathons.

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