The best European running races to sign up for now

Empty weekend? Not any more… fill it with one of these scenic, challenging, life-changing runs
The best European running races

There's little more we like doing more than combining a race with the chance to travel to different places around the world. Exciting new post-race food, local culture and an opportunity to enjoy some fresh scenery in some of the most popular international destinations.

But there are thousands of running races across Europe, with more being added to the calendar every year. So we’ve helped to sift out some of the best, whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s summiting a brutal European mountain or climbing a remote Icelandic volcano.

Best for scenery

Plitvicki Lakes Marathon, Croatia

The best European running races to sign up for

When: June

Elevation: 4,771ft

Terrain: ‘Undulating’ would be kind – think more mountainous. Said to be the hardest marathon in Croatia by locals.

Near Croatia’s border with Bosnia & Herzegovina lies a hidden gem – Lake Plitvice is a Unesco heritage site featuring waterfalls, tranquil turquoise water, stunning bridges and more than a little elevation. But the scenery helps soothe the pain of climbing. It’s a small race, so there won’t be a huge expo or crowds lining the roads, but that adds to the beauty and feeling that you’re part of something special. Plus you’ll run past a waterfall called Velki Slap, which is worth a stop for a picture of the sign. Speaking of picture stops, you may well find yourself snapping more than running on this beauty – at least your Instagram feed will look good at the end, even if you don’t.

Alternatives: Lake Maggiore Marathon, Windermere Marathon Cumbria

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Best for wilderness

Hengill 50km Ultra, Iceland

The best European running races to sign up for

When: September

Elevation: 5,505ft

Terrain: As Mansun famously sang in 1996, you’ll be in a wide open space. But this wide open space is exposed, hilly and completely off-road, crossing rivers on wooden footbridges as the ground steams around you.

If you find British hamlets claustrophobic, this is the race for you. You’ll be running in countryside, not far from Reykjavik, where you can opt for 5k, 10k, 25k, 50k or 100k (which is a double loop of the 50k). The main draw is running up a volcano – volcano, can we repeat – called Mt Hengell, with fissures and vents releasing steam as you run by. You don’t get that in Croydon.

Alternatives: Laugavegurinn Ultramarathon Iceland, Fjällmaraton Sweden

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The best for pushing you to your limit

Great Lakes Fell Race, England

The best European running races to sign up for

When: June

Elevation: 6,988ft

Terrain: Mud, hills, mud, hills, mud, hills, oh, and more hills. You’re on the highest Lake District fells here – experts only.

A beast. Only 13 miles, but a race that even seasoned fell runners tremble at. No GPS allowed, so your navigation skills should be top-notch, and you need to have had plenty of fell-running experience and know your mountain craft skills inside out before even thinking about tackling this.

If you do, you’ll be summiting the two highest peaks in the Lakes – Scafell Pike and Scafell, potentially in the ‘clag’ (low-hanging, visibility-destroying mist). The fastest runners can do it in under three hours, the slowest take eight hours. Only 50 runners entered last year, so be warned – you will most likely be asked about your previous fell-running experience when entering.

Alternatives: Isle of Jura Fell Race, Ras Y Gader Wales

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The best one you’ve never heard of

Rennsteiglauf Supermarathon, Germany

The best European running races to sign up for

When: May

Elevation: 8,002ft

Terrain: Mainly trails through forests with added hills.

Calling an ultramarathon a ‘supermarathon’ already ups its status in our book. And it sounds like you need to be a superhero to get round this 73.9km race along the Rennsteig, Germany’s most famous hiking trail. You’ll run through Thuringian Forest, deceptively not a forest but a mountain range, alongside 15,000 runners doing different distances up to the supermarathon in one of Europe’s biggest races. But forget the actual running for a minute – more importantly there’s a special ‘dumpling’ party the night before. Carbs have never sounded so good. The ‘oatmeal gruel’ at aid stations sounds less appealing, but competitors swear by it. That and meat, lots of meat: sausages, salami, lard on bread…

Alternatives: Viking Way Ultra, Lincolnshire

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Best for fun

The Great Breweries Marathon, Belgium

The best European running races to sign up for

When: May

Elevation: 1,173ft

Terrain: Relatively flat, scenic Belgian countryside with added breweries.

Forget the wine-heavy Marathon du Medoc – beer marathons are the new big thing. And where better to take part in one than the home of expert brewing, Belgium? Starting out and finishing at the Duvel brewery north of Brussels, the 26.2-mile course will take you through three breweries – Duval, Palm and Bosteels. And we mean literally through them – the course winds into the great hangars and brewing rooms of the ale-brewing operators before you head back into the Belgium countryside. The thought of piles and piles of frites, alongside ice-cold Duvel and Tripel Karmeliet at the finish, is an incentive that few other marathons offer.

Alternatives: Beer Lovers’ Marathon Liege, The Craft Half London

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The best for wildlife

The Transylvanian 100, Romania

The best European running races to sign up for

When: May

Elevation: 21,141ft

Terrain: Hills. Well, mountains would be more precise. You’ll even be running through snow.

OK, so we’re not sure if anyone has actually encountered a bear on this Romanian race, but following the demise of the famous Transylvanian Bear Race, this follows similar bear-laden routes through the forests and the Bucegi mountain range, adding a level of excitement (and fear) to the race that few other European runs can compete with. Not only is there the risk of bear and wolf attacks, but the start and finish are at an iconic location – Bran Castle, the birthplace of Dracula. Just try to ignore the fact you’re climbing the equivalent of Everest…

Alternatives: Man vs Horse Wales, Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra Run, Race To The Stones, Wiltshire

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Best for night-running

Midnight Sun Marathon, Norway

The best European running races to sign up for

Date: June

Elevation: 1,991ft

Terrain: Pretty flat, it’s mostly run along the waterside, in the shadows of towering mountains.

Starting at 8.30pm as close to summer solstice as possible, this is the ideal race for insomniacs. Strap on your shoes and head to the start line in the northerly Norwegian city of Tromsø for 8.30pm, where you will set off bathed in eternal twilight surrounded by fjord- and mountain-laden scenery that will (hopefully) distract you from any thoughts of sleep. And best of all, no head torch is required. At this time of year, the sun does not set, so surreally you could be finishing past midnight in bright sunshine. The views are so mesmerising – particularly the never-ending expanse of mountains right on the race’s doorstep – that you will never get bored during the 26.2 miles.

Alternatives: Sunrise Ultra Norfolk, Midnight Mountain Marathon

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The quad-destroying mountain race

Dolomites Marathon, Italy

The best European running races to sign up for

When: July

Elevation: 8,038ft

Terrain: We’re talking proper mountain terrain here, so loose rocks, scree, thin air and lots of painful scrambling over huge boulders.

We are fully on board with a marathon that boasts its own hymn. This brutal mountain race has such a song; learn it beforehand to help pick you up during the low points.

“Everyone is a winner/There are no losers/Soon or late/We meet at destination” – pure inspiration when your lungs are collapsing at 8,000ft. There’s no respite in this race: it’s all uphill, with a summit finish. Downhill? Pah, for losers, you’ll be saying at 100ft. Eight hours later you might be thinking a little differently…

Alternatives: Marathon du Mont-Blanc, Snowdonia Marathon Wales

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Best for a PB

Seville Marathon, Spain

The best European running races to sign up for

When: February

Elevation: 1,296ft

Terrain: Roads, dual carriageways (all glamour), but it’s claimed to be the flattest course in Europe. That’s all you need to know.

If you’re searching for a sub-something, this is the marathon that presents the best chance of bagging it. It’s gloriously flat, and organisers boast that 900 runners achieved sub-three hours this year. It’s a functional run – you won’t be here for the sights, as a lot of it is on dual carriageways, but the last 10K makes up for it with fountains and landmarks surrounding you as you make your way into the Estadio de La Cartuja for a stadium finish. PR smashed, you can reward yourself with fine tapas and litres of red wine.

Alternatives: Rotterdam Marathon, Manchester Marathon

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Best coastal marathon

Beachy Head Marathon, England

The best European running races to sign up for

When: October

Elevation: 3,993ft

Terrain: Off-road on steep coastal paths and footpaths.

You’ve trained for months, you’re at the start line, pumped, ready to take on Beachy Head Marathon, then you look up at what is facing you. Metres ahead, looming up like, well, like a cliff, is a daunting climb up a massive grassy hill. This sets the scene for the rest of the race: a brutal course that winds its way around the South Downs and along the coast. Hopefully the bracing, salty air will be enough to get you round the marathon distance. If not, the views will help.

Alternatives: Lulworth Cove Trail Running Challenge

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Tags:   Running
Tagged   Running