Glaciers, Desert, Jungle – These Marathon Courses Are Special

These Are the Ten Most Spectacular Marathons in the World determined the ten most breathtaking marathon races in the whole world that every marathon runner ought to run – if they can afford to.

Der Great Wall Marathon in China verbindet Sport mit Kultur und atemberaubenden Landschaften
The Great Wall Marathon in China combines sport with culture and breathtaking landscapes.

Marathons – a whole world of their own. Running over 42 km is a true challenge for most people, even for the very athletic ones. To do so under extreme conditions such as heat or cold or on the Matterhorn is something very few would dare to attempt.

But whoever crosses the finish line of the steepest, fastest marathons is rewarded with more than just a medal, as marathon expert Urs Weber emphasizes in an interview with According to the writer, “creativity, mental harmony, and a great deal of resilience” are among the positive effects. Read here about the marathon courses true fans have got to run – and why.

Whether during a city tour, at the polar circle, or on Mauritius: Urs Weber always has his sport shoes with him. He presents the 42 most spectacular marathon courses in his book “Marathons – The Dream Destination” – he has tested over half of them himself.

In an interview with, the editor of “Runner’s World,” the biggest runner’s magazine in the world, explains the fascination with marathons: “Running has lots of adventurous dimensions, physically, mentally, and socially.” We’ll show you the top 10 most beautiful marathons in the world. Urs Weber has run almost all of them.

1. New York City Marathon 2018

The New York City Marathon is one of the biggest and most famous marathons in the world. It has taken place every year since 1970 – usually on the first Sunday in November. The course goes through all five of the New York boroughs and passes all of the Big Apple’s sights. Starting on Staten Island, the New York City Marathon goes through Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. The marathon is considered to be demanding, but it’s always a highlight for Weber: “It’s hard to believe that this mega city is essentially shut down for the marathon runners – it’s always sensational to participate in it!”

Number of participants: 40-50,000 finishers

Next race: 11/04/2018


Participants from Germany have the best chance if they consult a tour operator, e.g.

Costs: Entry fee is 495 euros, package deals incl. flight/accommodation and entry fee starting at 2,000 euros

2. Boston Marathon 2019

The marathon in Boston is the longest tradition after the Olympic Games. It has taken place on the third Monday of April every year since 1897 – it achieved a sad fame in 2013 when three people died and 264 were injured after two bombs were set off near the finish line. The Boston Marathon starts in Hopkinton (Massachusetts) and ends in Boston. The marathon’s course is known for its gentle hills and a few challenging uphill and downhill sections. These require a good run technique – especially the famous Heartbreak Hill. Once this hill has been overcome after 35 kilometers, the course continues downhill to the finish line.

Number of participants: 25-27,000 finishers

Next race: 04/15/2019


To register, contestants must have run a qualifying time in a certified marathon (for details The qualifying times vary between 3:05 hours (men under 34) and 5:25 hours (women 80 and up) depending on age and gender. The registration is only possible during a short period starting on September 10. Caution: The registration deadline is not connected to a set date; as soon as 30,000 runners have registered, the lists are closed.

Costs: International participants with a qualifying time can register for 220 euros directly with the organizer; tour operators such as InterAir, Dertour, or Karstadt Reisen offer package deals including accommodation and flights starting at 1,700 euros. Runners without a qualifying time can also compete by registering with a tour operator, but then the entry fee is about 600 euros more.

3. Sahara Marathon 2019 in Algeria

For most contestants, the hottest charity marathon in the world starts out as an athletic adventure and ends with a whole lot of human empathy for the fate of the forgotten Saharawi people. Since the ceasefire between Saharawi and Morocco in 1991, about 180,000 Saharawis have been living under extremely difficult conditions in a kind of self-government in exile in Algeria.

A portion of the entry fee is donated directly to them. The marathon runners stay in the clay houses and tents of the Saharawi refugees. The marathon starts in the El Ayoun camp. It has a north to south course ending in Smara.

Number of participants: about 100 finishers

Next race: 02/27/2019


Costs: The organizers offer chartered flights from Madrid for 950 euros, which already includes the registration fee and a donation of 50 euros for the charity project; food and accommodation in the camp are free of charge.

4. North Pole Marathon 2019

Cool running at minus 40 degrees Celsius: The North Pole Marathon is not only the northernmost marathon in the world, it is also the only running event that does not take place on the mainland: contestants run on 3,600-meter-deep pack ice.

The hilly terrain with lots of soft snow costs the runners energy, but according to Weber, it’s surprising “how you forget the physical strain – or even pain – relatively quickly and the great memories are predominant. It’s often the details that count. For example, I wasn’t cold at all in Greenland at the Arctic circle, but I was impressed by the light and unbelievable peace on the glacier.”

A challenging course that is guarded by armed hunters. After all, there’s the threat of polar bear attacks. After reaching the finish line, a photo shoot and award ceremony await the participants at the Geographic North Pole.

Number of participants: about 62 finishers

Next race: 04/09/2019


Costs: Starting position, chartered flight from/to Spitzbergen to the North Pole and accommodation/food for 15,000 euros, bookable directly with the organizers. Participants must organize their flights to/from Spitzbergen themselves.

5. Great Wall Marathon 2019 in China

Likely the most impressive race in China takes marathon runners on an amazing trip through ancient Chinese history, breathtaking landscapes, and typical Chinese towns full of cheering inhabitants.

Strictly speaking, the marathon only goes on the Great Wall of China for a small section of the race. But the relatively short section on the world-famous monument is challenging: 5,164 steps, ascents and descents of over 300 meters. But this special cultural and natural adventure is worth every step. The start and finish are in Huangyaguan, about 120 kilometers north-east of Beijing.

Number of participants: about 2,300 finishers

Next race: 05/18/2019


Costs: Starting position and accommodation for seven days starting at 1,500 euros directly with the organizer; flights/transfers/visa not included

6. Zermatt Marathon 2019

The Matterhorn is considered to be the most impressive mountain in the world, at least according to the Swiss people. With an ascent of over 1,900, the Zermatt Marathon is one of the most challenging mountain marathons in the world. The view from the summit makes up for all the effort.

Number of participants: about 650 finishers, maximum of 800 participants

Next race: 07/06/2019


Costs: Entry fee is 108 euros

7. London Marathon 2019

Thanks to the numerous costumed contestants, the London Marathon, also called the Virgin Money London Marathon, is one of the most spectacular and largest marathons in the world. The motto of the London Marathon is “Run for Charity.The London Marathon is the fastest worldwide with numerous course records. The route passes many of the London sights. Every year, thousands of fans stand at the sidelines to cheer on the professional and amateur runners – many of whom are also in costume. Celebrities, e.g. recently Katie Price or TV chef Gordon Ramsay, also like to participate as sponsored runners to raise money for a charity.

Number of participants: about 40.000

Next race: 04/28/2019


Registration takes place via a ballot entry system. About 300 starting positions are reserved for runners from Germany. The safest way to enter is by booking through a travel agency.

Costs: Entry fee, flight, and accommodation starting at 1,200 euros with the two official partners in Germany, Dertour or InterAir

8. Big Five Marathon 2019 in Limpopo/South Africa

The wildest marathon in the world is like a safari adventure. The race in the private Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa has a demanding course through the African savannahs – past giraffes, rhinos, elephants, lions and co. The safety of the runners is the top priority: park rangers watch over the Big Five Marathon to ensure that participants can gaze safely at zebras, leopards, and antelopes as they run.

Number of participants: limited to 275

Next race: 06/22/2019


Costs: Entry fee, accommodation/full board for six days, safari, starting at 1,650 euros directly with the organizer, flight/transfer/visa not included

9. Königsschlösser Romantik Marathon (Romantic King’s Palace Marathon) 2019 in Füssen

The secret marathon tip for romanticism fans: the Königschlösser-Romantik-Marathon through 42.195 beautiful, idyllic kilometers of Ostallgäu. The flat circuit takes runners from Füssen over the paved roads and forest paths past the Neuschwanstein castle, Hohenschwangau, the Hopfensee, Forggensee, Schwanensee, and Mittersee lakes to the finish line, constantly accompanied by an impressive panorama of the Alps in the beautiful Königswinkel or King’s Corner.

Weber recommends anyone who likes running in sight of breathtaking views to try the other German “landscape marathons [...], whether the race on the Rennsteig, in the Black Forest, Bottwartal, in the Eifel, or along Lake Constance.”

Number of participants: about 500

Next race: 07/21/2019


Costs: 22 to 35 euros

10. Jungle Marathon in Belize instead of Brazil – and not until 2020

The Jungle Marathon was one of the most adventurous and likely the most dangerous marathons in the world. It last took place in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil in 2017.

Dozens of kilometers through swamps, deep jungle, wild rivers, or along beaches – in the scorching heat with up to 99 percent humidity and accompanied by crocodiles, snakes, and spiders. The next race won’t start until 2020 – and it will take place in Placencia/Belize.

Here, too, runners are expected to provide their own supplies. Required equipment: Backpack, drinking bottle, hammock, mosquito net, first-aid bag etc. After a five-day training camp, the actual race starts in which about 200 kilometers are to be completed in seven days. Contestants always “run” in teams. All in all, despite the name, it’s more of an IronMan Deluxe than a traditional marathon.

Number of participants: max. 40 teams of 3 to 6 people

Next race: 02/10/2020


Costs: about 5,000 euros for participation from February 10 to 24 including training and support from safety and medical personnel. The flight to/from Placencia, all visas, accommodation at departure/arrival are not included. The organizers recommend flying to Belize City and then taking a domestic flight to Placencia.

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