Top destination marathons for your next runcation

Destination marathons are a great way to combine your passion for running with the excitement of traveling. I already view marathon day (or half marathon day) as the “reward” for months of hard training, but to combine that with a vacation? Sign me up!

If you’re itching to jump on the racecation bandwagon too (I mean, who wouldn’t be?), read on for my curated list of top destination marathons around the world.

United States

Big Sur International Marathon – Monterey, California


Monterey, California, hosts the popular Big Sur International Marathon each year. It is known for its stunning coastal views, challenging terrain, and gorgeous views along the coastline of Northern California, which definitely make up for the rolling hills of this challenging course.

A 6-hour time limit doesn’t make this a walker-friendly race, but for those of you looking for a course to push you to your limits, there’s no better place to do it!

One of the unique aspects of the Big Sur International Marathon is that it takes place on a point-to-point course with the start and finish lines located in different areas. The marathon route begins in the town of Big Sur and ends at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, offering runners the opportunity to experience the beauty of the California coastline along the way.

The marathon is also known for its supportive and welcoming atmosphere and high-quality amenities for runners and spectators. A great racecation in North America!

Race Details

  • Location: Big Sur, California
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon, 21 miles, 11 miles, 12km, 5km, 3km
  • Max Elevation: 578 feet (176m) Min Elevation: 8 feet (2m)

Niagara Falls International Marathon – Buffalo, New York


Not many marathons can boast about border crossing as one of their race day perks. You start in New York, finish in Canada, and forever get the bragging right to say, “I ran from New York to Canada once.”

The Niagara Falls International Marathon is an annual event that typically takes place in October and features a 42.2 km (26.2 mile) marathon distance, as well as a number of shorter distances, including a half marathon, a 10 km race, and a 5 km race, making it suitable for runners of all levels.

What makes it unique is its ultra scenic course, which will take you along the Niagara River and through the Niagara Falls State Park, offering views of Niagara Falls and the surrounding natural beauty. It is also known for being very festive, with live music, food, and other entertainment at the finish line, but also well-organized with plenty of water and fuel stations, medical support, and other amenities. It is easily accessible from the Buffalo, New York area and other parts of the northeastern United States.

Race Details

  • Location: Buffalo, US–Niagara Falls, Canada
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon
  • Max Elevation: 675 feet (205m)Min Elevation: 554 feet (168m)
  • More Information: niagarafallsmarathon.com

Chicago Marathon – Chicago Illinois

Held annually in October, the Chicago Marathon boasts a flat and fast course. It is one of the highest energy races I have ever ran. It is also a fun city to shop and explore.

What sets the Chicago marathon apart?

  • Electric Atmosphere: With over 1.7 million spectators lining the streets, the Chicago Marathon boasts an unparalleled atmosphere. From cheering crowds and live music to the city’s own infectious energy, every mile is a celebration of human spirit and athletic accomplishment.
  • Urban Exploration: The marathon acts as a scenic tour of Chicago, taking runners past iconic landmarks like Willis Tower, Buckingham Fountain, and Millennium Park. Each neighborhood offers a unique flavor of the city.
  • A Flat Course: Unlike many marathons that wind through hilly terrain, Chicago’s course is notoriously flat.

I have created a Chicago Marathon Travel and Race Guide if you want a more detailed review of the race.

Race Details:

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon (42.2 km)
  • Course Highlights: Flat and fast, scenic city tour, enthusiastic crowds
  • More Information: chicagomarathon.com


Paris International Marathon – Paris, France


I’ve done a few marathons myself, and hitting the wall would be a BREEZE if it happened right about the time I ran past the Eiffel tower.

The Paris International Marathon is a popular annual marathon in Paris, France. It is known for its stunning course, which starts on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and takes runners through some of the city’s most iconic landmarks and neighborhoods, including the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eiffel Tower.

You get a free tour of Paris just for running 26.2 miles!

The Paris International Marathon is known for its relatively flat and fast course and is not necessarily considered a very challenging marathon, which makes it more approachable than some other courses. One potential issue will be the weather, as the race takes place in April, which can be an unpredictable time of year in Paris. Be ready to face anything from cold and rain to heat and humidity.

Another potential challenge is the size of the race; with over 50,000 runners participating each year, it can get crowded, especially on the narrow streets of central Paris. Still, it is one of the top destination marathons for sure!

Race Details

  • Location: Paris, France
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon
  • Max Elevation: 226 feet (68m) Min Elevation: 97 feet (29m)
  • More information: schneiderelectricparismarathon.com

Rock-N-Roll Marathon Series – Multiple International Locations

 Rock-N-Roll Marathon Series - Multiple International Locations

As its name indicates, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series is a fun and festive event popular among runners looking for an upbeat and energetic running experience. The series includes events in cities worldwide, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

I ran my first Rock-N-Roll marathon earlier this year, and I was very apprehensive about it. I thought tens of thousands of runners would make race day logistics extra chaotic. But I couldn’t be more mistaken – I had a wonderful time! With international stops in Dublin, Lisbon, and Mexico City, my only problem is deciding which foreign country to visit first.

These events feature live bands and entertainment along the race route, as well as at the finish line. Some of the highlights that make the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series one of the top destination marathons include live bands and DJs along the race route, providing you with a musical boost as you run, entertainment like cheerleaders, hula hoopers, and other performers, and charity partners so you can fundraise for your chosen charity.

Race Details

  • Location: Different international locations
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: 26.2 miles, 13.1 miles, 10k, 5k, 1 Mile

Jungfrau  Marathon – Interlaken, Switzerland


Yes, you have to conquer some ridiculous hills on this course, but the panoramic views and stunning mountain scenery at 2,100 meters above sea level will be totally worth it! Right?

This long-distance running event in the Swiss Alps takes place every year in late September. It is pretty challenging, a steep ascent to the finish line at the top of the Jungfraujoch, a mountain pass in the Bernese Alps. But don’t worry! The event is very well-supported, with plenty of water and fuel stations, medical support, and other amenities to ensure you have everything you need to complete the race.

In addition to the Jungfrau Marathon which features a 42.2 km (26.2 mile) marathon distance, there is also a half marathon, a relay event, and a kids’ run. The event is known for its festive atmosphere that includes live music, food, and other entertainment at the finish line.

Race Details

  • Location: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains, Switzerland
  • Event Type: Trail, a mountain range
  • Distance: Mountain marathon
  • Total Elevation Gain: 5,960 feet (1816m)

Marathon du Medoc – Pauillac, France


The Marathon du Medoc is another racecation in France and one of the top destination marathons in the area. Not only do you run through beautiful vineyards of the French countryside, but you also get wine at the 20+ aid stations on the course, bien sur! Many runners come in costume, acrobats have been part of race day festivities, and there are cheese and ice cream in the last 4K. Talk about motivation!

This annual event typically takes place in September and attracts runners of many levels eager to wind through the vineyards of the Médoc region. While it features a 42.2 km (26.2 mile) course, it also has a half marathon and a relay event.

Race Details

  • Location: The vineyards and chateaux of Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estèphe, Médoc and Haut-Médoc, beginning and ending in Pauillac
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon
  • Max Elevation: 92 feet (28m)Min Elevation: 3 feet (0.9m)
  • Activities During the Marathon: Musical breaks with 50 orchestras, 23 wine tasting stops, oysters tasting, steak.

Athens Marathon – Athens, Greece


Most serious runners have heard the story of the first marathon. The ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides is said to have run this very path to deliver news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC ran from Marathon to Athens. Unfortunately, promptly after arriving, he died.

Many non-runners chastise us, marathoners, for wanting to do something that killed the first person who ever tried it, but I laugh in their faces. What better way to prove them wrong than running the world’s first marathon course?

The Athens Marathon takes place, you’ve probably guessed, in Athens, Greece. It typically takes place in November and features a 42.2 km (26.2 miles) marathon distance and a half marathon, a 10 km race, and a 5 km race.

It will take you through the city of Athens and past some of its most iconic landmarks, such as the Panathenaic Stadium and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, offering a scenic and memorable running experience, and one of the most stunning top destination marathons.

Race Details

  • Location: Athens, Greece
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon, 10k, 5k
  • Max Elevation: 708 feet (215m)Min Elevation: 636 feet (193m)


Tokyo Marathon – Tokyo, Japan


Tokyo has always been at the top of my travel bucket list, and this primarily flat, chilly course provides me with the perfect excuse to visit. The race boasts over 10,000 volunteers and 1.6 MILLION spectators!

This annual event typically takes place in February and is one of the six World Marathon Majors, along with the Boston Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, the New York City Marathon, and the London Marathon.

A prestigious and highly competitive event for runners, and will take you through some of the most iconic neighborhoods and landmarks of Tokyo, offering a scenic and memorable running experience. You will usually get to see the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the Asakusa Temple, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, and more.

Race Details

  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon
  • Max Elevation: 134 feet (40m)Min Elevation: 5 feet (1m)

The Great Wall Marathon – Tianjin, China


While we’re in the Western part of the world, why not run a marathon on the Great Wall of China? Seriously, you can do that. Known as one of the best top destination marathons, it may have 5,164 challenging steps to tackle, but running on one of the most famous landmarks of all time would be worth it.

The marathon distance is 42.2 km (26.2 miles), which is a significant distance for any runner, and the difficult terrain of the Great Wall makes it even more challenging. In addition to the steep ascents and descents, the course also includes a number of stairs and uneven surfaces along the Great Wall, which can be difficult for runners to navigate.

But despite that, running a section along the Great Wall of China makes it a once-in-a-lifetime experience! In addition, the Great Wall Marathon course will also take you through the countryside surrounding Beijing, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. A racecation to remember!

Race Details

  • Location: Huangya Pass, Great Wall of China, China
  • Event Type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon, Half marathon, 10k
  • Course Elevation: About 650 feet (198m)

South America

10. Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu – Cusco, Peru


Billed as the most difficult marathon in the world, thanks to 10,400 feet in uphills and 11,000 feet of downhills, this marathon is certainly not appropriate for beginners. However, if you’re looking for a challenging course through one of the most beautiful countries in the world, then consider training your buns off for this race. The course ends in the ancient city of Machu Picchu, so it’s certainly worth the effort!

The Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu typically takes place in June. It follows the Inca Trail to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, going through the stunning landscape of the Andes Mountains in Peru, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s no wonder it is considered one of the top destination marathons.

You’ll get to run through some of the most stunning landscapes in the Andes Mountains in Peru, including the Cloud forest, with its cool, humid climate and variety of plant and animal life, a number of mountain passes, and several Inca ruins, including the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu itself.

Race Details

  • Location: Southern Peruvian Andes, Cusco, Perú
  • Event Type: Trail, a mountain range
  • Distance: Marathon
  • Starting Elevation: 8400 feet (2560m)High Point: 13800 feet (4206m)