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Marathons: The World's Top Five

Updated on May 9, 2016
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Jaynie is a seasoned marathoner, triathlete and soccer player with an interest in fitness and nutrition.

Major International Marathons

Running enthusiasts have likely heard about the top five marathon destinations in the world. Many marathoners have likely completed at least one, if not all of the marathons. The list might surprise you, as Athens, the birthplace of the marathon, is not included, however the cities that do make the list are dynamic and full of options for fine dining, entertainment and more. If you are a running enthusiast with the means and opportunity to travel, you might want to consider making one of these amazing trips. Each destination is great for bringing your entire family.


Each April on Patriot’s Day, the historic city of Boston hosts the granddaddy of marathon competition. The race accommodates 25,000 people, all vying for coveted status as a finisher. Some, the pro runners, are also vying for a substantial prize purse. The first Boston marathon was held in 1897. The course is full of rolling hills but runners enjoy the scenic New England countryside and energy emanating from countless enthusiastic spectators. Despite its rich history, the race only began awarding prize purses after receiving pressure from pro athletes who refused to race in Boston until prizes were made available. In addition, women were shut out of the race until 1972, seventy five years after the race was first held. Not everyone is allowed to race in Boston. Runners must qualify for this elite race. The qualifications are based upon age and expected finishing times. For example, 35-39 year old men are expected to complete the 26.2 mile race in no more than 3 hours and 15 minutes, while women in the same age group must complete the race within 3 hours and 45 minutes. One of the most notorious legs of the race has been dubbed Heartbreak Hill, a particularly tiring ascent just after mile 20.

If you are going to run the Boston marathon, take a few extra days to enjoy this historic east coast city. Attractions include:

  • The Institute of Contemporary Art that features the works of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe
  • The USS Constitution Museum
  • Shopping on Newbury Street
  • Self-Guided Walking Tours Along the Freedom Trail that includes 16 historical sites
  • Grab a quick, delightful bite at Beacon Hill Bistro
  • Have drinks at Drink or the Oak Bar, two of the most popular bars in Boston


The Virgin London Marathon is also held in April. It is much younger than the historic Boston marathon, having only begun in 1981. The race is one of the fastest marathons out there with a mostly flat course. The race accommodates 35,700 runners. London is a dynamic city and marathoners have the pleasure of running past many famous landmarks including the Tower of London, the Millennium Wheel, Cutty Sark and Buckingham Palace, where the race comes to an end. The qualifying time for men that wish to be considered for championship status is sub 2 hours and 45 minutes, while for women it is sub 3 hours and 15 minutes. 

If you are visiting London for the Marathon, check out this hub for information about attractions in London.


The Real Berlin Marathon began in 1974 and has now grown to a capacity of 40,000 runners. The race began with marathoners trekking through the Grunewald Forest, and eventually moved to the center of West Berlin. However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the race proceeded through both east and west Berlin. This race has among the largest number of spectators of any marathon in the world, with 1.5 million lining the flat, fast, race route. The race is typically held in September and the weather is routinely pleasant and amenable to completing a 26.2 mile adventure.

Berlin is a city with a rich, interesting, often violent and resilient history. There are countless opportunities for fine dining, entertainment, tours, photography, shopping and more. Visit the following hub to get ideas on what to do when visiting this fascinating city. 


With a maximum field of 45,000 runners, the Chicago marathon has one of the largest fields and fastest courses in marathoning. This event has been hosted by the Bank of America since 1977, around the time that it was set up as a rival to the successful New York City Marathon. The very first Chicago marathon was held in 1905, nine years after the inaugural Boston Marathon and ten years after the first marathon in Greece. The race is often run under steamy conditions, with record setting race day heat in 2007 forcing the field to close early. That year one runner died and over thirty more were sent to local hospitals suffering from dehydration and other heat related disorders. Over 400 other runners also sought some sort of medical attention, many from on-course medics. Unlike the Boston Marathon, women have always been welcomed in Chicago.

Chicago is a vibrant, colorful city that draws countless international tourists annually. The scenic shores of Lake Michigan make this an idyllic setting for this esteemed race. If you are planning to run this marathon, take time out to experience some of these incredible attractions:

  • Navy Pier
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Chicago Field Museum
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Shopping on Michigan Avenue
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Brookfield Zoo
  • Chicago Cubs Game

New York

The ING New York Marathon has a capacity of 37,869 runners, though they receive over 90,000 applications each year. Over 2 million spectators line the route, cheering and supporting runners throughout the grueling 26.2. mile event. The race cuts through the five boroughs of New York, crosses five bridges and ends with a run through the internationally renowned Central Park. New York City is a major travel destination for millions of visitors annually because of its cultural diversity and countless attractions. If you are fortunate enough to gain a coveted slot in the race, stay for the endless array of events and attractions. These include 

  • Broadway Shows
  • Times Square
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Central Park Zoo
  • Drinks at the rooftop bar of 230 Fifth

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© 2010 Jaynie2000


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