We love half marathons. They're long enough to be a test of endurance and fitness without the weighty marathon training plan.
Half marathons are 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. Itâs perfect for everyone from beginners to veteran athletes, whether youâre dipping your toes into endurance running for the first time or desperately trying to get a PB.
- Kit yourself out: The best running shoes
And when you drop to the 13.1 mile distance, 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 favorite half marathon events around the world â 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 weâve 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 youâve just done something special.
If we were pushed for our favorite Spanish half marathon it would be Valencia. The half marathon takes place in October, which means itâs still warm, with temperatures up to 77 degrees â so make sure you plan your kit for heat. As well as taking place on wide roads, the course is also flat, so if youâre okay with a bit of sun, itâs 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, itâs a race that has everything covered. Add to that a start and finish that takes place next the impressive City of Arts and Sciences and you may even forget the 21 kilometres youâve got to cover.
Entrance fee: From âŹ25
The best bit: Running across the bridge at the City of Arts and Sciences
Difficulty: Flat but can be hot â check the route on Strava
Elevation gain: 263m
The Great Wall Half Marathon
Man-made landmarks donât get any bigger than the Great Wall of China, and if your half marathon aspirations verge on the Herculean then itâs 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 youâre ever likely to find in a half marathon. Which, as you may have imagined, tends to help a bit when youâre 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, itâs by far the most challenging race on this list. The course doesnât all take place on the wall though, with the second half winding around the cheering crowds of the local villages. Thereâs also a full marathon option which means tackling a gargantuan 5,164 steps in total.
Entrance fee: From $1,450 (includes a full 6-day trip, based on 2019 cost)
The best bit: Running through the crowds in Duanzhuang village
Difficulty: Savage â check the route on Strava
Elevation gain: 300m
Rock ânâ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon
Las Vegas isnât the first place that springs to mind when youâre thinking fitness, but if youâre looking for something a bit different then itâs well worth investigating â 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 youâre ever likely to find at a running event.
With only 67m of elevation gain and the first 13km of the race being a gentle downwards slope, itâs 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 youâre hoping to target that PB. The other good thing about RockânâRoll races â they make some of the most impressive race bling weâve ever seen.
Entrance fee: TBC
The best bit: Watching the sun go down as the race starts
Difficulty: Flat and fast â check the 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. Itâs unlikely youâre going to see any world records broken here, unless itâs for âfastest Jabba the Huttâ.
The race is part of a full weekend of events, with runs starting from the under 12-month old âDiaper 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.
Entrance fee: $188 (based on 2019)
The best bit: The medals are sought after like modern day bullion
Difficulty: Flat â check the route
Elevation gain: 40m
Kauai Half Marathon, Hawaii
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 weâve 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 doesnât 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. Thereâs also a marathon option which has over 1,300m of elevation, for when you really want to feel like youâve earned that Mai Tai.
Entrance fee: $105 (based on 2019)
The best bit: The tunnel of trees
Difficulty: Hilly and hot â check the route
Elevation gain: 506m
Kilimanjaro Half Marathon
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, itâs a great option if you like turning your running trips into a holiday.
Entrance fee: Packages start from $378 USD
The best bit: The sun rising over Kilimanjaro in the distance
Difficulty: Stifling and very hilly â check the route
Elevation gain: 300m
Edinburgh Half Marathon
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 itâs 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 that surround the city.
Entrance fee: ÂŁ38.50
The best bit: The 90m of downhill for the first 8km
Difficulty: Undulating â check route on Strava
Elevation gain: 161m
BMO Vancouver Half Marathon, Canada
Often mentioned as one of the most picturesque city marathon races in the world, 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 doesnât last long with the rest of the race undulating until a final climb for the 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 mean itâs pretty easy to see why people whoâve run it love it so much.
Entrance fee: $108
The best bit: The final few kilometers through Stanley Park
Difficulty: Undulating â check route on Strava
Elevation gain: 560m
New York City Half Marathon, N.Y.
As high profile half marathons go, youâre not going to find anything that packs as much punch as the New York Half. The perfect event for runners that 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 didnât 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.
Entrance fee: TBC for 2020
The best bit: The final few kilometres through Stanley Park
Difficulty: Flat and fast â check route on Strava
Elevation gain: 117m
Mont St Michael, France
If ever there was a sight in the distance to spur you on as you make your way through 21 kilometres, Mont St Michael has got to be it. A fairytale island topped by a medieval monastery that marks the end of the race is a vision you wonât 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 Michael. 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 youâre looking for then this is probably not the best option, but if youâre 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
Entrance fee: From âŹ34
The best bit: Looking up at Mont St Michael as you cross the finish line
Difficulty: Flat â check route on Strava
Elevation gain: 30m
Main image credit: Albatros Adventure Marathon