At 13.1 miles, a half marathon is the perfect introduction into the world of long-distance running. And, it’s also the perfect excuse to go off and explore a new corner of the globe. Because if you’re going to force yourself to wheeze and sweat for two hours or so, you may as well be surrounded by stunning scenery. So, without further ado, here are the most stunning half marathons in the world.
1. Royal Parks Half Marathon, London
Taking in London’s Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, this half shows a new side to the Big Smoke. The first six miles take in Trafalgar Square and the Strand, making it an ideal sightseeing trip for those who want to move faster than the tourist crowds. But it’s the latter section, winding through the titular Royal Parks (going down the side of Buckingham Palace, no less) that makes this a race to remember. Royalparkshalf.com
2. The Great Wall Half, China
Yes, you did read that right. This half (with options for the full 26.2 miles) runs the length of China’s famous Great Wall. In other words, you’ll be racing over one of the great wonders of the world. We must note that even the half is one for experienced runners only, what with 5164 vertical steps standing between you and the finish line… Can’t beat the views, though. Great-wall-marathon.com
3. Bagan Temple Half, Myanmar
With full marathon, half and 10km options, this Burmese excursion should be at the top of your wish-list. The race takes you through the historic temples and sacred pagodas of the Bagan plains, creating a mystical landscape. The relatively flat course will take you through villages and temple grounds where it seems time has stood still. Bagan-temple-marathon.com
4. Polar Night Half Marathon, Norway
With darkness for half the year, the Norwegian town of Tromsø is the perfect place to cover 13.1 miles after dark. Follow the torch-lit route through the town, and along the east shore of the island of Tromsøya. Keep an eye out for the aurora borealis on the way. Hats, gloves and warm jackets are required. Msm.custompublish.com
5. Safari Half Marathon, South Africa
What it says on the tin. The run starts in Wellington before heading out into the bush. Heat, sun and competitors make it a challenging one, as does the (slim) possibility of encountering a lion en route. With mountains, plains and savannah as a backdrop, there’s no better way to get into the spirit of Africa. Safarihalfmarathon.co.za
6. Athens Half Marathon, Greece
As the home of the marathon, Athens should be at the top of any serious runner’s list – whether you’re opting to go the full distance or just halfway. The trail will take you through the city, circling the stunning Mount Lycabettus, while also passing close to the ancient Akropolis. One to tell the grandkids about. Athinahalfmarathon.gr
7. Sarajevo Half Marathon, Sarajevo
Launched in 2007, the Sarajevo Half Marathon takes you through the most stunning parts of Sarajevo, with an emphasis on fast and flat running. Best of all, the historic capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina offers a bounty of museum and cultural sights to help you unwind afterwards. An unexpected treasure. Sarajevomarathon.ba
8. The Big Sur International Marathon, California
With full marathon, half, 12k, and 5k options, this coastal Californian jaunt traces the Pacific Ocean, offering glistening vistas of blue waves and white spray. Best of all, its finish line is 346 feet lower than the start line, meaning getting to the end won’t be an uphill struggle. Bigsurmarathon.org
9. Kauai Half Marathon, Hawaii
There’s a reason so many people head to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Granted, you don't think of half marathons when you think of the country, but then, as Kauai is known as Hawaii’s ‘Garden Island’, running in paradise doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Volcanic peaks, rain forest and pristine beaches all make it a highly-Insragrammable run.
10. Jerusalem Half Marathon, Israel
Drawing an international range of competitors and taking in historic monuments including Mount Scopus, David’s Tower and Haas Promenade, the Jerusalem Half is a truly epic experience. Be warned, though, the route is extremely hilly. And while this does offer spectacular views of the Old City, it’ll play hell with your hamstrings.
Feeling like going a bit further? Click below to see the UK's best ultra marathons...