We’re continuing our list of the world’s top 50 marathons. In part VII, you’ll find some inspirational and challenging courses!


  1. Rotterdam Marathon

Rotterdam may be a smaller city in Europe, but thousands of runners visit the modern, industrial port city each spring to participate in its magnificent marathon. Many are drawn to the flat course and the fact that the organizers put on a great race, despite a limited budget. While the course may be more sparse than the New York or Boston marathons, the city comes out to support the runners and essentially closes down on race day. One of the highlights of the race is the warm cheers from the crowd along the waterfront. Rotterdam was also one of the first marathons to incorporate chip timing and the event is consistently innovating and challenging the idea that major cities can host great marathons.

It’s no surprise that the Rotterdam Marathon offers one of the most consistently flat and even courses in Europe. The course itself takes advantage of The Netherlands’ flat terrain. The Erasmus Bridge at 2km and two wooden areas around 5km and 30km are significant landmarks along the loop course. While it may not be the most scenic, the town makes up for it in enthusiasm and a steady course that helps new marathon runners enjoy a consistent pace.


  1. Iceland Volcano Marathon

Beginning near Lake Myvatn, the Iceland Volcano Marathon is run directly in the North Volcanic Zone, a hotbed of geothermal activity, hot springs, geysers and lava rock – an area that is still active today!

Participants will be treated to scenic views of the massive Hverfjall crater as the route’s focus. Runners then pass through soft, black volcanic sand as the trail runs the rim of the crater. Next, they pass through the ethereal lava fields called Dimmuborgir or “Dark Fortress,” created when an eruption 2,300 years ago formed the great expanse of black lava stacks and caves. The folklore of the region associates it with the gates of hell. This all leads runners through a beautiful natural arch, Gatklettur Arch. 

The scenic route includes a single-track trail, lava rock plains and several smaller volcano craters. Another major highlight of the course consists of the terrain through natural flora and then runs clockwise around the Hverfjall crater before heading up its slopes that rise more than 100 meters. Runners get a 360-degree view of the North Volcanic Zone from the top. After running the crater’s entire rim, participants continue north, close to the Jardbodin Nature Baths, where they can see the steam rising from the volcanic activity. Runners can choose between the marathon, half marathon, or the quarter marathon – each is scenic and majestic!


  1. Venice Marathon

The Venice Marathon may be a great option if you’re looking for a glamorous and cosmopolitan run. The race is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Ranking. It is internationally recognized and Bronze Label-certificated by IAAF and Gold Label by FIDAL.

The route is unique and the marathon has continued to inspire runners and spectators for decades. Participants start in front of Villa Pisani and run by the Riviera del Brenta. At one point, the marathon heads into Mestre. It turns southeast into Parco San Giuliano, where participants run for about 2km before passing onto the Ponte Della Liberta, a bridge that is nearly 4km long and connects Venice to the mainland. Racers will cross the floating bridges set up for the race and continue through Piazza San Marco, by the Campanile and Palazzo Ducale. The scenic marathon is like seeing a love letter to the city’s canals and waterways and is particularly memorable on a sunny day.


  1. Jungle Marathon, Brazil

Ever dream about running through a lush jungle? You have the opportunity to make your wishes come true at Brazil’s unique Jungle Marathon. The event is an extreme footrace located in the protected Tapajos National Forest of the Amazon rainforest and allows participants to see the wonders of nature. However, participants should be wary that it’s a dangerous course due to the elements, as CNN once voted it as “The World’s Toughest Endurance Race.” Temperatures average over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and often reach 99 percent in humidity. Dangerous wildlife, including wild animals and poisonous plants, also may feature on the trail.

The organizers take the safety of their participants seriously and make an effort to minimize risks, while runners are encouraged to stay present in the potential hostilities of the jungle. 

The Jungle Marathon offers three races; the main marathon, a 4-stage 127km race and a 6-stage 254km race. These courses include swamps, river crossings, steep inclines and descents, village trails, and beaches. The daunting but exciting race is for competitors with strong mental tenacity and physical endurance. Known as the world’s wildest eco-race, this marathon allows competitors to combine their training with eco-tourism and experience a stunning part of the world.


  1. Honolulu Marathon

When runners want to avoid races in cold temperatures, the Honolulu Marathon is a great option! Held in December, the race is the third largest marathon in the United States. It attracts 30,000 runners each year, with many participants coming from foreign countries like Japan.

The course starts off by winding through Oahu’s stunning coastline at Ala Moana Beach Park and looping through Waikiki Beach, followed by the Koko Head Crater and Diamond Head, before curving to the finish line at the Kapiolani Park. Interested runners can check out a detailed course layout in various sections by mile.

While a 5 a.m. start time may be a bit early for some participants, the course is thoughtfully designed to avoid Honolulu’s heat and humidity. During the race, organizers provide cooling sponges and gels along the path to help runners cool off. Showers are also featured at the end of the finish line; an excellent reward for the workout!