9 Bucket List Marathons That Should Be on Your List

Many runners combine travel and their favorite sport by signing up for marathons all over the world. The following list includes some of the world's biggest and best marathons that are found on many runners' bucket lists.

Marathons in the Pandemic

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many marathons may be postponed, modified, or canceled this year and/or until a coronavirus vaccine is available. Some have converted to virtual races. Check with local event coordinators to confirm dates, alternative options, and other details.


Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon
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When: March
Where: Tokyo, Japan
Why run it: The Tokyo Marathon is the largest marathon race in all of Asia. The race is extremely popular with Japanese runners, as well as marathoners from around the world.

During most years, this world-class event has about 30,000 spots, for which almost 300,000 people apply, with final selections based on a lottery. This well-organized marathon has plenty of support and spectators along the way, as you take a cultural and scenic tour of Tokyo's past, present, and future.

The 2020 Tokyo Marathon was cancelled for everyone except for marathon elites and wheelchair elites due to concerns about coronavirus. Details regarding the 2021 race are still uncertain. Race organizers were expected to make a decision about the race in August, 2020. But in September, they announced that they will need more time.


Paris Marathon

Competitors run during the 36th Paris Marathon on April 15, 2012

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When: April
Where: Paris, France
Why run it: One of the most beautiful marathon courses in a major city, the Paris marathon is a flat and fast course. You'll get a scenic tour of some of Paris' most famous sites while experiencing great crowd support. Appropriately enough, the finish line is right near the Arc de Triomphe.

In 2020, the race was initially postponed and then finally cancelled. Race organizers have expressed that they hope to "see you in 2021" but details of the upcoming race are yet available on the race website.


Boston Marathon

120th Boston Marathon
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When: Mid-April
Where: Boston, Massachusetts
Why run it: Many runners have the world's oldest annual marathon on their bucket list because just gaining entry to Boston represents a significant accomplishment. But even if you don't meet the race's tough qualifying times, you could always participate through one of the race's charity partners.

Getting to run Boston is such a thrill that most runners don't mind the series of hills (including the infamous Heartbreak Hill) towards the end of the course.

In 2020, the Boston Marathon was postponed and then held as a virtual race. The next race is scheduled for April 19, 2021, however, registration has been postponed due to concerns about COVID-19. Race organizers have noted that due to field size limitations, achieving a qualifying time does not guarantee entry.


London Marathon

Virgin Money London Marathon
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When: Mid-April
Where: London, England
Why run it: One of the five world marathon majors, the London Marathon is high on many runners' lists because of its scenic course, unbelievable spectator support, and fun atmosphere. Gaining entry to the race can be difficult, but the race does offer a lot of charity spots for those who want to fundraise in exchange for an entry.

In 2020, the London Marathon was postponed and made into a virtual event to take place on October 4, 2020. On that day, a lottery will open for the October 3, 2021 event with results to be announced in January 2021.


Big Sur International Marathon

2014 Big Sur Marathon
Craig Lovell / Getty Images

When: End of April
Where: Monterey, California
Why run it: Who wouldn't want to run the most scenic marathon in the U.S.? Participants in the Big Sur International Marathon get to run through the redwoods and experience breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean, making running the very hilly course totally worth it.

Racers who have done the Big Sur International Marathon report that the volunteers and race support are phenomenal. You'll even be treated to a classical pianist playing along the course. 

Not ready for a full marathon? There's always the Big Sur half-marathon, which offers similarly spectacular views.

The 2020 and 2021 Big Sur marathons, half marathons, and other running events have been cancelled. Race organizers created a Big Surreal Virtual Challenge to take place on September 30, 2020 but that event was also postponed due to wildfires.


Berlin Marathon

Participants of Berlin Marathon finishing at the Brandenburg Gate
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When: End of September
Where: Berlin, Germany
Why run it: Another one of the world majors, the Berlin Marathon is a flat, fast course as well as a very scenic marathon. The world record has been broken here in the past, so the elite race is also very competitive and exciting. The great crowd support and party atmosphere along the way may help push you to your own personal best (PR).

In 2020, the Berlin Marathon was cancelled. The next race is scheduled for September 26, 2021.

Knowing that you're running in the footsteps of the world's best marathoners only adds to Berlin Marathon's appeal.


Chicago Marathon

2019 Chicago Marathon
Quinn Harris / Getty Images

When: Early October
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Why run it: The marathon world record has been broken numerous times in Chicago, so it's a very fast course and a favorite among runners trying to run a PR. It's also known for tremendous spectator support, which also helps boost runners' times. 

The course starts and finishes in Grant Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago. Along the way, you'll be treated to many of the city's highlights, including the Willis Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade, Lincoln Park Zoo, United Center, Chinatown Gate, and many of Chicago's diverse neighborhoods. 

At the Chicago Marathon, you'll encounter lots of encouraging fans cheering and blasting music as you run through the Windy City.

The October 2020 race was cancelled. The 2021 marathon is scheduled for October 10.


New York City Marathon

Runners in the NYC Marathon

Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

When: Early November
Where: New York, New York
Why run it: Another of the marathon majors, New York City is the world's largest marathon—both in terms of participants and spectators. Runners tour the city's five boroughs and experience New York's diverse and vibrant neighborhoods.

With more than 2.5 million spectators cheering on runners through the streets of New York, it's truly a race like no other. Gaining entry by lottery gets tougher every year, but the race does have some charity team spots.

Like Big Sur, if you can't do the full, the NYC half-marathon (held in March) is a pretty cool alternative.

In 2020, both the marathon and half marathon were cancelled. A virtual event was scheduled for October 17 through November 1. The 2021 New York City Marathon is scheduled for Nov. 7


Athens Classic Marathon

Greek Classic Marathon
Milos Bicanski / Getty Images

When: Mid-November
Where: Athens, Greece
Why run it: Running the original, historic marathon course can't be beaten, but throw in the inspiring finish at the 1896 Olympic stadium and the Athens marathon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Known for its difficult, uphill terrain, this marathon attracts elite runners looking for a challenge. For those with a bit less gas in the tank, a half marathon option is also available.

Unlike other bucket list marathons, the 2020 Athens Marathon is scheduled to take place as planned on November 8, 2020. Participants will be divided into two different groups with 5,000 participants each and a one-hour difference in starting time.

More Marathons to Try

If you want more marathons to choose from, consider the races from the following lists:

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