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‚Äôve helped to sift out some of the best, whatever you‚Äôre looking for, whether it‚Äôs summiting a brutal European mountain or climbing a remote Icelandic volcano.
- Try these for size: Best world half marathons
- Try these for size: Top half marathons
- Kit yourself out: The best running shoes
Best for scenery
Plitvicki Lakes Marathon, Croatia
Terrain: ‚ÄėUndulating‚Äô would be kind ‚Äď think more mountainous. Said to be the hardest marathon in Croatia by locals.
Near Croatia‚Äôs border with Bosnia & Herzegovina lies a hidden gem ‚Äď 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‚Äôs a small race, so there won‚Äôt be a huge expo or crowds lining the roads, but that adds to the beauty and feeling that you‚Äôre part of something special. Plus you‚Äôll 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 ‚Äď at least your Instagram feed will look good at the end, even if you don‚Äôt.
Best for wilderness
Hengill 50km Ultra, Iceland
Terrain: As Mansun famously sang in 1996, you‚Äôll 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‚Äôll be running in
The best for pushing you to your limit
Great Lakes Fell Race, England
Terrain: Mud, hills, mud, hills, mud, hills, oh, and more hills. You‚Äôre on the highest Lake District fells here ‚Äď 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‚Äôll be summiting the two highest peaks in the Lakes ‚Äď Scafell Pike and Scafell, potentially in the ‚Äėclag‚Äô (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 ‚Äď you will most likely be asked about your previous fell-running experience when entering.
The best one you‚Äôve never heard of
Rennsteiglauf Supermarathon, Germany
Terrain: Mainly trails through forests with added hills.
Calling an ultramarathon a ‚Äėsupermarathon‚Äô 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‚Äôs most famous hiking trail. You‚Äôll 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‚Äôs biggest races. But forget the actual running for a minute ‚Äď more importantly there‚Äôs a special ‚Äėdumpling‚Äô party the night before. Carbs have never sounded so good. The ‚Äėoatmeal gruel‚Äô at aid stations sounds less appealing, but competitors swear by it. That and meat, lots of meat: sausages, salami, lard on bread‚Ä¶
Alternatives: Viking Way Ultra, Lincolnshire
Best for fun
The Great Breweries Marathon, Belgium
Terrain: Relatively flat, scenic Belgian countryside with added breweries.
Forget the wine-heavy Marathon du Medoc ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď Duval, Palm and Bosteels. And we mean literally through
The best for wildlife
The Transylvanian 100, Romania
Terrain: Hills. Well, mountains would be more precise. You‚Äôll even be running through snow.
OK, so we‚Äôre 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 ‚Äď Bran Castle, the birthplace of Dracula. Just try to ignore the fact you‚Äôre climbing the equivalent of Everest‚Ä¶
Best for night-running
Midnight Sun Marathon, Norway
Terrain: Pretty flat, it‚Äôs 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 Troms√ł 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 ‚Äď particularly the never-ending expanse of mountains right on the race‚Äôs doorstep ‚Äď that you will never get bored during the 26.2 miles.
The quad-destroying mountain race
Dolomites Marathon, Italy
Terrain: We‚Äôre 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.
‚ÄúEveryone is a winner/There are no losers/Soon or late/We meet at destination‚ÄĚ ‚Äď pure inspiration when your lungs are collapsing at 8,000ft. There‚Äôs no respite in this race: it‚Äôs all uphill, with a summit finish. Downhill? Pah, for losers, you‚Äôll be saying at 100ft. Eight hours later you might be thinking a little differently‚Ä¶
Best for a PB
Seville Marathon, Spain
Terrain: Roads, dual carriageways (all glamour), but it‚Äôs claimed to be the flattest course in Europe. That‚Äôs all you need to know.
If you‚Äôre searching for a sub-something, this is the marathon that presents the best chance of bagging it. It‚Äôs gloriously flat, and organisers boast that 900 runners achieved sub-three hours this year. It‚Äôs a functional run ‚Äď you won‚Äôt 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.
Best coastal marathon
Beachy Head Marathon, England
Terrain: Off-road on steep coastal paths and footpaths.
You‚Äôve trained for months, you‚Äôre 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