The 14 best half marathons in the world: Europe, US and more

Mountains, cities, forests, and beaches – 13.1 miles has never been so much fun
The 14 best half marathons in the world

We love half marathons. While few have the glamour of the majors – there's some brilliant European, US and world half marathons that offer something different.

Half marathons are also perfect for integrating into your travel. You can still make the most of your time away without the weight of the race dominating your trip.

And when you drop to the 13.1-mile distance – as opposed to getting stuck into a full marathon – things get a lot more interesting. Forget dull city street marathons and start thinking jaw-dropping trails and unique experiences in bucket list locations.

Here we pick our favourite half marathon events around the world, from novelty fun races to the kind of events that leave an imprint on you for years to come. Hills, scenery, ease of access and even medals are all factors that play a massive part in how good a running event can be.

Valencia Half Marathon

Spanish races, as we’ve discovered over the past few years, are extremely well organised. That may seem like an easy task when you can almost always count on good weather, but wide roads, nicely planned start areas, efficient expos and well-managed water stops all make for the sort of events that leave you feeling like you’ve just done something special.

If we were pushed for our favourite Spanish half marathon it would be Valencia. The half marathon takes place in October, which means it’s still warm, with temperatures up to 77 degrees – so make sure you plan your kit for heat. As well as taking place on wide roads, the course is also flat, so if you’re okay with a bit of sun, it’s a great place to hit a PB.

With a route that takes you by the beautiful marina, through the central park and past the cheering crowds in the main town district, it’s a race that has everything covered. Add to that a start and finish that takes place next to the impressive City of Arts and Sciences and you may even forget the 21 kilometres you’ve got to cover.

When: 27 October 2020

Entrance fee: From €25

The best bit: Running across the bridge at the City of Arts and Sciences

Difficulty: Flat but can be hot – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 263m

The Great Wall Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world
Credit: Albatros Adventure Marathon

Man-made landmarks don’t get any bigger than the Great Wall of China, and if your half marathon aspirations verge on the Herculean then it’s definitely one to tick off the list. Taking place in the Tianjin Province in May means that not only are there a lot of steps to climb, but it also hits temperatures of 95 degrees. So probably not one for beginners.

Aside from the staircases, rolling trails, historic cobblestone paths, unpaved terrain and steep ascents and descents, the route means that runners get to take in some of the most breathtaking views you’re ever likely to find in a half marathon. Which, as you may have imagined, tends to help a bit when you’re struggling your way through some of the tougher sections.

With 493m of elevation at its highest point and a fair amount of undulation across the whole 21km, it’s by far the most challenging race on this list. The course doesn’t all take place on the wall though, with the second half winding around cheering crowds in the local villages. There’s also a full marathon option which means tackling a gargantuan 5,164 steps in total.

When: 16 May 2020

Entrance fee: From $1,460

The best bit: Running through the crowds in Duanzhuang village

Difficulty: Savage – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 300m

Kilimanjaro Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Credit: Johanna Ginsberg

If ever there was a backdrop to spur you on as you desperately try to find the strength for the last few kilometres of a run, a snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro is it. You have to work for it though, with over 300m of elevation to contend with in temperatures that can reach 95 degrees. Once you reach the turning point on the climb though, things get drastically easier as you only have a long downhill to deal with.

The best part about opting for the half marathon distance is that you miss out a long road section that the marathon runners end up doing, meaning the bulk of the course is run on beautiful trails.

With Kilimanjaro just a drive away as well as a selection of national wildlife parks, it’s a great option if you like turning your running trips into a holiday.

When: 1 March 2020

Entrance fee: From $103

The best bit: The sun rising over Kilimanjaro in the distance

Difficulty: Stifling and very hilly – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 300m

Edinburgh Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world
Credit: Reuben Tabner

Edinburgh is famous for many things: the Fringe festival, Sean Connery, one of the most striking castles in the UK and, luckily for us runners, a very popular series of running events.

The Edinburgh Marathon Festival takes place in May, hosting an enormous range of races from a kids' kilometre to the extremely popular Edinburgh Marathon. Since it started in 2003 it’s become one of the stalwart UK races to tick off the bucket list, offering amazing views, cheering crowds and a great place to spend an extended trip.

The half marathon covers the first half of the full route, a course famous for the fact that the first 8k is all downhill. Which basically means you get that free. Once through the city streets, the course heads down to the coastline and follows it out surrounded by the Scottish hills around the city.

When: 24 May 2020

Entrance fee: £38.50

The best bit: The 90m of downhill for the first 8km

Difficulty: Undulating – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 161m

BMO Vancouver Half Marathon, Canada

The best half marathons to enter around the world
Cameron Sparling / RUNVAN

Often mentioned as one of the most picturesque city marathon races in the world, the Vancouver half marathon has a lot going for it. Starting in the impressively designed Queen Elizabeth Park, the route heads north through tree-lined suburban streets and past enormous crowds until you eventually end up finishing in the beautiful Stanley Park.

Although the first 5k is downhill, the easy jaunt doesn’t last long with the rest of the race undulating until a final climb for the last 2k. A small price to pay when the view in front combines the breathtaking mountains with the waters of the Burrard Inlet.

Great organisation, amazing scenery, a limited number of runners (it only has about 5,000 participants) and one of the nicest cities to celebrate in afterwards means thats it’s pretty easy to see why people who’ve run it love it so much.

When: 3 May 2020

Entrance fee: From $91

The best bit: The final few kilometres through Stanley Park

Difficulty: Undulating – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 560m

Mont St-Michel, France

The best half marathons to enter around the world
Credit: Gautier Demouveaux

The fairytale island of Mont St-Michel, topped by a medieval monastery, that marks the end of this race is a vision you won’t find anywhere else.

Starting on the Brittany coastline, the half marathon course takes place on quiet pastoral paths as it follows the waterline through to the finish looking up at the magnificent Mont St-Michel. Although the first half of the marathon has a meaty climb, the second half is as flat as a pancake, meaning you can enjoy the scenery.

If it's crowds you’re looking for then this is probably not the best option, but if you’re the kind of runner that likes to soak in beautiful scenery, then this is one of the best choices out there.

When is it: March (date TBC)

Entrance fee: From €34

The best bit: Looking up at Mont St-Michel as you cross the finish line

Difficulty: Flat – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 30m

Whangamata Half Marathon

Best races in New Zealand
Credit: Whangamata Run Walk Festival / Facebook

If you're looking for a race that has a massive focus on community then the Whangamata half is a must. Starting and finishing at the local high school and organised by the Whangamata Lions, all proceeds from the event are returned to community projects.

As well as some of the country's most impressive beaches and, rather surprisingly, some rainforest islands, the area is relatively flat. There are a few hills around the back of the town but nothing too taxing.

Only a few hundred runners take part across four race distances every year (one of those is a half marathon walk), so it's a great trip if you want to stay away from the enormous crowds of some of the other events on the list.

When is it: 7 September 2020

Entrance fee: From $45 (NZ)

The best bit: The community spirit as you cross the finish line

Difficulty: Mostly flat – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 56m

Great Bristol Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Picking our favourite road marathon in the UK was never going to be easy, but when you're competing with some of the most beautiful locations in the world there's only one that cuts the mustard for us: Bristol.

If ever there was a place in the UK designed for an amazing half marathon it's Bristol. Not only do you have one of the most architectural pleasing city centres but you also have heaps of scenery ranging from the incredible Avon Gorge to the industrial treat that is the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The route takes in the best the city has to offer, from city streets and riverside bars to hilltop woodland – something that means it's far from the flattest half marathon you're likely to find. When you've got a city that looks this good, though, it's worth it.

When is it: 27 September 2020

Entrance fee: From £40

The best bit: The long stretch along the River Avon

Difficulty: Mostly flat – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 150m

Half marathons in the United States

Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Las Vegas isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you’re thinking fitness, but if you’re looking for something a bit different then it’s well worth investigating – especially considering the whole event takes place at on the Vegas strip at night.

The fact that the race is the only private event in Las Vegas allowed to take over the strip makes the whole thing a big deal. Not only are the streets dotted with everything from DJs to circus performers, but the support from the crowds is some of the best you’re ever likely to find at a running event.

With only 67m of elevation gain and the first 13km of the race being a gentle downward slope, it’s one of the easier courses on the list. There are up to 40,000 runners taking part in races from 5k to the full marathon though, so expect some congestion if you’re hoping to target that PB. The other good thing about Rock’n’Roll races – they make some of the most impressive race bling we’ve ever seen.

When: 16-17 November 2019

Entrance fee: $160

The best bit: Watching the sun go down as the race starts

Difficulty: Flat and fast – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 63m

Star Wars Half Marathon, Orlando

In an amazing piece of marketing genius, Disney combined two of our favourite things into the perfect event for any fake-lightsaber-wielding runner: the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend.

Taking place at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, the 13.1 mile course takes runners around the park as costumed characters from the film series.

As you would probably expect, the focus here is fun. It’s unlikely you’re going to see any world records broken here – unless it’s for “fastest Jabba the Hutt”.

The race is part of a full weekend of events, with runs starting from the under-12-month old “Diaper Dash" to the full-on Star Wars challenge, which sees people taking part in both the 10k and the Half Marathon over the weekend to be awarded a bonus medal at the end.

When: 16-19 April 2020

Entrance fee: $195

The best bit: The medals are sought after like modern-day bullion

Difficulty: Flat – check the route on Strava

Elevation gain: 40m

Kauai Half Marathon, Hawaii

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Hula dancers, Taiko drum troupes, a beautiful mountain backdrop and a finish that ends on one of the most impressive coastlines in the world. Not the kind of things we’ve ever come to expect from a half marathon course, but if you really wanted to take your running experience to the next level then the Kauai Half Marathon is the way to go.

Starting in Poipu in the early hours, runners watch the sun rise as the route follows the famous beaches, volcanoes and tropical rainforests that lead deeper into the island, before heading through the impressive tunnel of trees and back to the coastline.

As is always the case, beautiful scenery doesn’t come without a price: in this case, 506m of elevation gain. Luckily the last half of the race is all downhill so you can enjoy the final push as you stare longingly at the beach in front of you. There’s also a marathon option that has over 1,300m of elevation, for when you really want to feel like you’ve earned that Mai Tai.

When: 6 September 2020

Entrance fee: From $95

The best bit: The tunnel of trees

Difficulty: Hilly and hot – check route on Map My Run

Elevation gain: 506m

New York City Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

As high profile half marathons go, you’re not going to find anything that packs as much punch as the New York Half. It's the perfect event for runners who want to experience the staggering crowds of the New York marathon without the distance. Either that or a second chance at racing in Central Manhattan if you didn’t get in through the marathon ballot.

Starting off in Prospect Park, the course takes runners through the cheering Brooklyn crowds before heading over Brooklyn Bridge and into Manhattan. From there the route follows the east side of the island until moving into the centre for a final incredible loop around Central Park.

It may not be the toughest race in the list, but there is a fair amount of incline across the course, so make sure to hit some hill training before the big day.

When: March (date TBC)

Entrance fee: TBC for 2020

The best bit: The final few kilometres through Central Park

Difficulty: Flat and fast – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 117m

San Fransisco Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Aside from the fact that you get to run over and around some of the most impressive US scenery you'll find in a road marathon, the San Fransisco Half has one major aspect that you don't see very often – you get to choose which half of the marathon course you want to run.

We know you're thinking that's pretty cool – so are we. The upshot of the rather unique format means that you can decide which section of the route would be most enjoyable. The first half is flatter and takes place largely along the bay whilst the second half is hillier and covers more of the city streets – plus you get to finish with all of the marathon runners. You can even cover off the whole marathon over two years if you want to get the full experience without having to cover the distance in one go.

Depending on which route you take, you'll take in a number of sights including the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Crissy Field, Coit Tower and Golden Gate Park, as well as soak up cheering crowds in neighbourhoods like Haight-Ashbury and The Mission. The only difference is that you won't get to run across the Golden Gate bridge unless you opt for the full distance. You'll still get to see it though.

When: 26 July 2020

Entrance fee: From$119

The best bit: The gradual finishing descent toward the Embarcadero

Difficulty: Hilly and often windy – check first half route on Strava | check second half route on Strava

Elevation gain: First half – 150m | Second half – 300m

Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon

The best half marathons to enter around the world

Lexington in Kentucky, if you didn't already know, is famous for being the birthplace of American thoroughbred racing – something you don't often associate with running events. The area is also well known for having some of the most beautiful scenery across the US.

If you're looking for a race with a difference then Bluegrass is well worth a look. Not only does the race serve as a historic tour of the area, but you can bolster your visit with all manner of activities including visits to the iconic Claiborne Farm, Ashford Stud, Kentucky bourbon distilleries and a selection of local restaurants and watering holes.

Don't expect an easy ride though, as previous runners note that the course has a fair few inclines to deal with. Still, you really need to earn all of that whiskey.

When: 28 March 2020

Entrance fee: From $85

The best bit: Every time you see a field full of horses

Difficulty: Undulating – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 150m

Main image credit: Albatros Adventure Marathon

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