10 Top City Marathons

Rome Marathon (Italy, March)

It's no wonder that foreign runners make up more than a third of the field for this race, which is effectively a 26.2-mile sightseeing tour around the Eternal City. The race is held on a Sunday in March, and takes in the ancient splendours of the Colosseum, St Peter's Square, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps.

And can there be a better destination for pre-race carb-loading than a city that lives on pasta, and has a trattoria on just about every corner?

THE COURSE Starting and finishing in the shadow of the 2,000-year-old Colosseum, the course is fairly flat for a city built on seven hills. But you're unlikely to improve your PB: conquering the cobbled streets that cover half the route will add minutes to your finish time.

FAST FACT For the first marathon of the millennium, organisers moved the start line to St Peter's Square, where Pope John Paul II blessed the runners.

CONTACT maratonadiroma.it

Boston Marathon (USA, April)

In 1896, a team from the Boston Athletic Association took part in the first Olympics in Athens. Inspired by the "first" marathon, club members decided to organise a similar race the following year on Patriots' Day (the third Monday in April).

Today, Boston is the world's oldest continuously-run annual marathon. Since 1970, entrants have had to qualify for this prestigious race: the qualifying time is 3:10 for men and 3:40 for women aged 18-34, with graduated times for "masters" and "veterans", depending on age.

THE COURSE The field of 25,000 starts in Hopkinton to the west of Boston, and passes through several small towns before finishing in downtown Boston. All runners dread Heartbreak Hill: the 600m ascent between miles 20 and 21, but many consider the hill on Washington Street from the 16-mile point to be even tougher.

FAST FACT Every year, the Boston Red Sox baseball team plays a home game at Fenway Park to coincide with the marathon. After the game, the crowd cheers runners into the final mile. 

CONTACT bostonmarathon.org 

Edinburgh Marathon (Scotland, May)

Only in its eighth year, this racein the Scottish capital has already earned a "must-do" reputation - consequently it's the second-largest UK marathon.

It's a fast course, with an overall descent of 40m -
so, great for PBs. And the organisers expect 15,000 entrants this year. Prefer to run a shorter race? The Hairy Haggis Team Relay splits the distance into legs for teams of four, and a whopping 19,500 entrants are expected to enter for this truncated test.

COURSE The mostly flat and scenic race starts in the city centre, taking in Holyrood Park, Leith Links and Portobello Promenade. It goes on to East Lothian to the coast, past picturesque fishing villages, before a grandstand finish at the Musselburgh Racecourse.

FAST FACT There's free entry for runners with proof of super-fast times: sub-2:40 for men and sub-3:00 for women.

CONTACT edinburgh-marathon.com

Stockholm Marathon (Sweden, June)

Known as the "Venice of the North", situated across 14 islands on the edge of the Baltic, it's not surprising that Stockholm delivers a stunning 26.2-miler - many runners consider it the world's best. With a field of 20,000, half them foreigners, and boisterous crowds cheering on, this race has an amazing atmosphere.

And while most city marathons take place on a Sunday morning to minimise disruption, this event goes off without a hitch, despite starting at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon in early June. But beware the summer heat: the 2009 race saw temperatures of 30°C.

COURSE It involves two different loops of the city, starting outside the 1912 Olympic Stadium and finishing on the track inside. There are large, flat sections of the course, but enough undulations to break your rhythm. Beware of Västerbron (right): Sweden's largest arched bridge provides the toughest ascent of the race. And you'll have to do it - twice.

FAST FACT Stockholm Olympic Stadium was built for the 1912 Olympics and holds the world record for the most world records broken at one venue: currently 81.

CONTACT stockholmmarathon.se

Quebec City Marathon (Canada, April)

With its French colonial past, Quebec feels so European you could almost you forget you're in North America. Most of the Marathon des Deux Rives (as locals call it) runs along the north and south banks of the St. Lawrence River in this sophisticated provincial capital. Your foot tour takes you over cobbled roads, past outdoor cafés
and the overflowing window boxes of this imposing, historic city.

THE COURSE The race begins with a pre-dawn ferry ride across the river to the start, and ends with a flag-lined finish in front of the renowned Chateau Frontenac hotel (above). The second half of the course is hilly, but there's impetus for those final miles because they're packed with cheering spectators, all of them shouting how "magnifique" you are.

FAST FACT Kilometre markers along the course descend rather than ascend. Many find this unique "countdown" approach makes for better motivation.

CONTACT marathonquebec.com

New York City Marathon (USA, November)

New York City's premiere road race celebrates a landmark birthday this year. In 1970, just 127 runners took part in the inaugural race, which was four six-and-a-bit-mile loops of Central Park. Forty
years on, crowds of 2,000,000 line the route, which now takes in all five NYC boroughs, while a dizzying 315,000,000 watch on TV worldwide.

THE COURSE Starting in Staten Island, runners cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (right) into Brooklyn. At halfway, the course enters Queens and crosses into Manhattan a couple of miles later. It swings through the Bronx and Harlem before the Central Park grand finale.

FAST FACT There were 43,659 entrants in 2009 - the largest ever marathon field.

CONTACT nycmarathon.org

Athens Classic Marathon (Greece, October)

Every marathoner should follow in the footsteps of Pheidippides. In 490BC, he ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory over the Persians - and then collapsed and died. But his tragic finish did nothing to discourage the 4,000 who travel to Athens to run each year.

THE COURSE A challenging jaunt, with the start line near the sea in Marathon and the finish line in central Athens at 110m above sea level. Along the way, runners have to climb a number of tough hills, including the base of Mount Penteli.

FAST FACT The Panathinaiko Stadium (left), where the marathon finishes, was built entirely in white marble for the first modern Olympics, in 1896.

CONTACT athensclassicmarathon.com

Paris Marathon (France, April)

In 1896, 191 participants took part in the first Paris Marathon, run over the 40km separating the city from Conflans, with medals awarded only to those completing the distance in under four hours.

Today, the route through the heart of the city, and the food and drinks stations serving up wine, beer, cider and oysters, give runners a reason to love Paris in springtime. But entrants need a GP's note saying they are fit to participate.

THE COURSE The course has changed over the years, but it is now well established and delivers a tour of the city, starting on the Champs-Elysées and taking in the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, Place de la Bastille, the Seine and the Trocadéro - where you can get a foot massage.

FAST FACT Englishman Len Hurst won the first Paris Marathon in 1896.

CONTACT parismarathon.com

Berlin Marathon (Germany, September)

First held in 1974 in the Grunewald  forest on the outskirts of the former West Berlin, the race moved to the streets of the city in 1981. Then in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 25,000 runners crossed into the east of the city through the Brandenburg Gate, the emblem of pre Cold War, unified Berlin.

Since then, Berlin has enhanced its world-class marathon credentials with a record-breaking course, slick organisation, and plenty of loud, enthusiastic crowds.

THE COURSE Taking you past the Reichstag, the Potsdamer Platz and the Berliner Dom, the route is famously flat, so a favourite for PB hunters. In 2008 Haile Gebrselassie beat his own world record by 27 seconds at Berlin, finishing in 2:03:59.

FAST FACT Günter Hallas, who won the first Berlin marathon in 1974, still takes part today.

CONTACT real-berlin-marathon.com

Rio de Janeiro City Marathon (Brazil, July)

When Rio hosts the 2016 Olympics, marathoners are in for a treat if its annual 26.2-miler is anything to go by. A field of 14,000 negotiates a stunning course that has the Serra do Mar mountains on one side and white sandy beaches on the other. The route is dotted with DJs and bands to add a carnival flavour. The distractions will be welcome - race day heat has hit 30ºC.

THE COURSE Starting at Recreio in the south-west of the city, it follows the shoreline of the "Cidade Maravilhosa" (Marvellous City), passing the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches and the Sugar Loaf Mountain on the way to the finish line in the district of Flamengo.

FAST FACT The 2016 Olympic marathon will finish in the Sambadrome, a purpose-built parade that hosts the start of the city's carnival.

CONTACT maratonadorio.com.br