The 15 best half marathons in the world | USA, New Zealand, Europe and more

[Updated for 2021] It's time to get those running calendars out – races are back!
The 15 best half marathons in the world

That's right runners, races are back – which means it's time to start pulling out those calendars and booking into some of the best half marathon events around the world and put all that training to good use.

We love half marathons at Get Sweat Go. Unlike a marathon – which can take over your life – halfs offer an accessible and balanced challenge to focus your training on. For seasoned athletes, the distance is one of the most enjoyable to fit into a training plan. For those new to endurance running, it offers an attainable leap from 10ks.

The best part of half marathons for runners around the world is the enormous range of events that are available, many of which take place on the same routes as full marathons.

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: 24 October 2021

Entrance fee: From €25 (entries for 2021 are now sold out but you can sign up for the waiting list)

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, China

The Great Wall Half Marathon
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: 21 May 2022

Entrance fee: From $1,550

The best bit: Running through the crowds in Duanzhuang village

Difficulty: Savage – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 300m

Kilimanjaro Half Marathon, Africa

Kilimanjaro Half Marathon

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: 27 February 2022

Entrance fee: From $80

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, Scotland

Edinburgh Half Marathon
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: 29 May 2022

Entrance fee: £39.75

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

BMO Vancouver Half Marathon, Canada
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 that it’s pretty easy to see why people who’ve run it love it so much.

When: 1 May 2022

Entrance fee: TBC

The best bit: The final few kilometres through Stanley Park

Difficulty: Undulating – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 560m

Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Canada

Part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon weekend, the Toronto half marathon is one the biggest races in the Canadian running calendar and the weekend marks the end of the Canadian Running Series. Unfortunately, the 2021 event is virtual but we'll update this guide as soon as details of the 2022 event are posted.

The three distances see 26,000 participants, of which around 4,000 take part in the half marathon, head through the cheering crowds of the city and the impressive shoreline. Runners covering the half distance start with the marathoners at University Avenue and weave around some of the cities most famous landmarks for 7km before a long stretch along Lakeshore Boulevard.

The event is a large-scale spectacle where crowds and entertainment line the busy city streets. For PB-hunters it offers a fast and relatively flat course, for those looking for an incredible experience soaking in the sights and taking part in the country's proud sports and athletic culture, it's a bucket list race up there with some of the biggest around the world.

Highlights include excellent organization, friendly people and a massive selection of portable toilets.

When is it: 2022 event TBC (1-31 October 2021 for the virtual race)

Entrance fee:Virtual from $40 (Canadian dollars)

The best bit: The finish line is in the same place as the marathon, so expect major crowds welcoming you back.

Difficulty: Flat – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 125m

Helsinki Half Marathon, Finland

A lesser-known half marathon that benefits from that fact by being a beautiful and more intimate race around one of Finland's most impressive historical cities.

A relatively flat race, the Helsinki Half takes a route that covers the bulk of the cities main area. Starting and finishing in the north of the city, the course takes in views of the Baltic sea via the harbour, through Kaivopuisto park and into the historic landmarks of the Katajanokka district, before hitting up the Olympic Quay (the site of the 1952 Olympics) and the city lake Töölönlahti.

The 2018 event saw just under 3,000 participants take on the race, a figure that means that although it's a relatively large scale event, it never feels too busy or cramped like many other half marathons.

Note that although the majority is flight, there is a bit of climb as you come into the last few kilometres. So make sure you save a bit of energy left for the last push.

When: 11 June 2022

Entrance fee: From $29

The best bit: Seeing the old Olympic area

Difficulty: Undulating – check route

Elevation gain: 150m

Whangamata Half Marathon, New Zealand

Whangamata Half Marathon, 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: 10 September 2022

Entrance fee: TBC

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

Difficulty: Mostly flat – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 56m

Copenhagen Half Marathon, Denmark

Copenhagen Half Marathon, Denmark
Credit: Joseph Miller Photography

For a race that's a relatively new fixture for runners, the Copenhagen Half Marathon has quickly become one of the most popular European events with almost 25,000 participants covering the 13.1 miles.

Aside from the fact that it takes place in one of the world's most beautiful historic cities, the event holds the esteem of being the location for the fastest ever road half marathon – a record held by Geoffrey Kamworor in 2019 with a time of 58:01.

The course is an impressive central route that takes in many of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg's most popular landmarks and sees enormous crowds lining the streets of the city. Runners can also enjoy a selection of live music and DJ stations dotted across the course to help create an atmosphere that's not only fun but means those PBs are even easier to get.

When is it: 19 September 2021

Entrance fee: From €67

The best bit: The overall feeling of hygge from the Danish crowds.

Difficulty: Flat as a Danish pancake – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 34m

Great Bristol Half Marathon, England

Great Bristol Half Marathon, England

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: 19 September 2021

Entrance fee: From £44

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, USA

Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, USA

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: 26-27 February 2022

Entrance fee: $135

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

Difficulty: Flat and fast – check route on Strava

Elevation gain: 63m

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 sunrise 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: 4 September 2022

Entrance fee: TBC

The best bit: The tunnel of trees

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

Elevation gain: 506m

San Fransisco Half Marathon, USA

San Fransisco Half Marathon, USA

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: 28/29 September 2021

Entrance fee: From $170

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, USA

Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon, USA

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: 30 October 2021

Entrance fee: From $95

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

Difficulty: Undulating – check route on MapMyRun

Elevation gain: 150m

Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, USA

Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, USA
Credit: Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon

The combination of running long distances and drinking alcohol is far from an alien concept, with races like the Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc and the Bacchus Marathon prompting you to enjoy a few glasses throughout the course.

But getting tipsy whilst running isn't the only reason these races exist – vineyards tend to be found in some of the world's most beautiful locations and offer the perfect setting for a mass participation event. The Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon is no exception and forms part of a wine-themed weekend of running, drinking and a host of other activities.

As well as the half marathon there's also a 5km race that takes place on the Saturday that you can register for at a discount if you purchase alongside the half.

When is it: 12 December 2021

Entrance fee: $200

The best bit: The finisher's wine glass

Difficulty: A few hills – check route

Elevation gain: 165m

Main image credit: Albatros Adventure Marathon

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