There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with completing any athletic event. However, a marathon, especially in a popular marathon city is in its own league.

For some, running is a casual hobby, while others take it as serious business. Training to finish those miles demands discipline, consistency and sacrifice. There’s no cutting corners or excuse-making. It’s just hard work.

The first organized marathon in the modern age took place in Athens in 1896, but the concept of a marathon is linked to a popular legend in Greek mythology. The story is that a Greek messenger sprinted from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a war victory. Shortly after he did this, he died of exhaustion.

Are you looking to participate in a marathon or to plan a trip around a run to explore one of several popular cities for marathon enthusiasts? Travel Noire has curated a list of the popular cities for any marathon experience.

New York

view of central park in New York City - one of the popular cities for marathon runners
Photo Credit: Jermaine Ee

Founded by New York Road Runners, the New York Marathon has been growing rapidly since its debut in September 1970. Back then, it stayed within Central Park. However, it expanded to the other boroughs in 1976. The marathon starts in Staten Island, goes through Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx, before ending in Central Park in Manhattan.

The New York Marathon has witnessed remarkable feats of athleticism. There have been efforts made to include non-traditional athletes, like the creation of the wheelchair division in 2000. Now, there are runners with artificial limbs, visual impairments and developmental delays. You’ll even find elderly participants who run the race to prove they’ve still got that spark. The diversity and inclusion of this run is what makes it such a treat.

The marathon is like a huge street party, complete with music, festive outfits and spectators holding encouraging signs. For elites, the goal is to finish as fast as humanly possible, but, for most, simply finishing counts as an accomplishment. When the barricades are dismantled, some spectators will linger to support the slower runners. One organization, Project Finish, ensures that every single runner gets the encouragement and medals they deserve.

In 2022, Evans Chebet and Sharon Lokedi, of Kenya, took the top spots in the men’s and women’s divisions of the New York Marathon.


picturesque view of London Bridge - one of the popular cities for marathon runners
Photo Credit: Peter Kostov

The London Marathon started in 1981, and its creators were inspired by New York. According to TCS London Marathon, more than a million people have completed the course. Runners start in Greenwich Park in Blackheath and finish on the Mall, which stretches from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace.

You’ll see plenty of spectators, and the course is almost completely flat. Keep an eye out for the city’s most recognizable landmarks, like Big Ben, The Tower of London and The London Eye.

Athlete Cemohn Sevier started doing marathons in 2017. She plans to conquer the London Marathon before tackling others marathons in Paris, Sydney and Big Sur.

“My hope is to travel the world and have new experiences as I race in different cities,” Sevier told Travel Noire. “I also want to represent Black runners wherever I race because we make up a small fraction of runners doing big-ticket races, and an even smaller fraction of those traveling for international races.”


skyline view of Boston - one of the popular cities for marathon runners
Photo Credit: Jimmy Woo

The Boston Marathon is world-renowned. The 2013 marathon was memorable for a tragic reason: a terrorist attack. Two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three spectators and injuring over 200 people. Since then, security has increased, and there have been no other incidents.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest of its kind in the world. Evans Chebet and Peres Jepchirchir are two of the runners who claimed victory.

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street view of Tokyo - one of the popular cities for marathon runners
Photo Credit: Jezael Melgoza

Tokyo’s marathon is one of the six most prestigious in the world, alongside London, Berlin. According to several participants and spectators, the Tokyo Marathon is an electrifying experience. It is newer compared to others since it started in 2007.

The marathon typically starts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and ends at Tokyo Station. Runners cut through Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Ginza and Shinagawa, as thousands of spectators cheer them on.


afternoon view of The Bean In Chicago
Photo Credit: Sawyer Bengtson

The Chicago Marathon started in 1977. Runners have endured all kinds of weather from the frigid cold to heat waves. In fact, officials had to call it off early in 2007 because people passing out from the heat.

You’ll have the chance to pass through 29 different neighborhoods on this run, including The Loop, Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville and Chinatown. You’ll also pass by historic and cultural sites, like Willis Tower (or Sears Tower) and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

This is one race that is strict about time. All participants must finish within approximately six hours and 30 minutes. After that, the streets re-open to vehicles, and there’s a chance you’ll be removed from the course.