One of the many great things about running is that it’s a simple sport you can take part in anywhere in the world, and European marathons are a stand-out option for doing just that.
If you’ve done all the marathons that you wanted to do in the UK, or just want to broaden your horizons, then it’s to dig out your running shoes and your passport and head out onto the continent. Whatever your priorities when choosing your next marathon, you’ll have plenty of choice – and the vast majority of them will only be a short flight away.
In this guide, we’ve picked out seven of the best European marathons for you to take part in. As well as highlighting some of those that take in iconic sights along the way, we’ve also picked out opportunities to lower your personal best, and to try something a little off the beaten track.
A major reason that people look further afield than the London Marathon is because they can’t get an entry. But just a short flight away (or a couple of hours on the Eurostar), the Paris equivalent is just as big.
The Paris Marathon normally takes place in April (a handy divergence of dates now that London has moved into the autumn) and is the ultimate self-guided sightseeing tour. Many of the most famous landmarks of Paris are on the route: the Champs-Elysees, sights of the Eiffel Tower, the Place de la Concorde, the Bois de Boulogne and much more. With more than 50,000 people taking part, you’ll definitely get the big-event feel.
And for a true one-off, how about the mass-participation Olympic marathon taking place during the 2024 Games, on the same course as the competition itself?
PB hunters, read on: it’s time to dust off your German phrasebook, because Berlin has a reputation for being the fastest of all the big-city marathons in Europe. It’s no coincidence that men’s and women’s world records have been set here on numerous occasions, and it’s therefore often targeted by the top professionals every September.
The Berlin Marathon has kept to the same route since German reunification in 1990 and takes in some of the biggest sights on both the western and eastern sides of the city. You’ll get to see the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, the Berliner Dom, and the iconic Brandenburg Gate on the approach to the finish line. Berlin is easily reachable from the UK and the marathon attracts around 40,000 runners each year, so you’ll be in good company from start to finish.
If you love the motivation of music around the course, then set your radar to Portugal. Lisbon stands out from the European marathons crowd as the ‘Rock n Roll Marathon’, with countless bands and acts entertaining runners and spectators alike all along the course.
Lisbon has a reputation for being quite a hilly city, but don’t panic: the marathon course is much flatter and kinder than you might think. It starts in the pretty seaside resort of Cascais on the Atlantic coast, and gradually works its way east into the city itself, largely tracking the estuary of the River Tagus. You don’t have to worry about Mediterranean heat either: this marathon is in October and starts at 8:30am, meaning even slower runners are normally finished by lunchtime.
Midnight Sun, Tromsø, Norway
Tromso is a small, picturesque town in the far north of Norway, inside the Arctic Circle. Its biggest claim to fame is probably when its football team beat Chelsea in the European Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1997 – in the middle of a blizzard! But it’s also a mecca for European marathon runners who like their experiences a little different.
The Midnight Sun Marathon takes place in late June, in the middle of the ten-week summer period when Tromso gets 24-hour daylight. It normally starts at 8:30pm, meaning that you’ll still be running at midnight unless you’re particularly rapid. And the scenery that you’ll witness will be unforgettable: snowy mountains in the background, shimmering waters and more – all in the hours that we would normally call darkness.
You’ll no doubt be aware of the Ancient Greek legend from which the name ‘marathon’ is derived: a messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory in the Battle of Marathon in the 5th century BC. Of course, according to the story, poor Pheidippides collapsed and died on arrival. And now (apart from that last bit!) you have the chance to recreate that legend for yourself.
The Athens Authentic Marathon takes place every November and recreates that same route, which was also revived in the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896. You’ll start in the town of Marathon and finish in the historic Panathenaic Stadium in the centre of Athens. This isn’t running a marathon – it’s running the marathon.
Most of the best European marathons are enough of a challenge that they tend to stick to fairly flat and forgiving routes. Only the hardcore are willing to take on a full marathon distance in the mountains. If this is you, then a great place to start is with the Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland.
This is a marathon course that goes up… and up… and up. You’ll be doing more than 1800 metres of vertical ascension along the way. In return for this punishing ordeal in early September, you’ll also get to witness some jaw-dropping Alpine scenery, and the finish line is at the Eiger Glacier more than 1950m above sea level. Despite its punishing nature, this is a popular event, so sign up fast to secure your pain!
Many of the marathons on this list are huge, mass-participation events, and the size of the field and crowds can be a bit too much for some. If you want something a little quieter and relaxed, but no less inclusive and welcoming, then head to Iceland for the Reykjavik Marathon in August.
The field for the marathon is normally around 1500, meaning you’ll have plenty of space for those times when you just want to run alone. The cooler climate and ocean breeze among most of the route also makes for excellent running conditions. And to top the experience off, the marathon usually takes place on the same day as Reykjavik Culture Night, giving you plenty to savour and enjoy at the end of your run.
Get marathon insurance with SportsCover Direct
As an endurance event, marathons can be extremely testing on the body and the mind. And while the best European marathons mentioned in this guide represent the experience of a lifetime, they do also bring with them an extra layer of complexity. There’s additional risk of your travel plans being disrupted, or of your luggage being lost, stolen or damaged in transit.
It’s also worth considering your healthcare before your trip. While you may have a European or Global Health Insurance Card, this will only cover you for a basic amount of healthcare in the country you’re in. If you need extensive healthcare in the event of accident, illness or injury, then you may be liable for additional costs, unless you have insurance cover in place.
At SportsCover Direct, our affordable policies can protect you against unexpected incidents during your trip, and even compensate you for entry fees if your chosen marathon is cancelled or curtailed. Check out our marathon insurance policies today, then get to work planning 26 miles to remember.
This blog has been created as general information and should not be taken as advice. Make sure you have the correct level of insurance for your requirements and always review policy documentation.