The big city marathon has become such a cultural phenomenon in the West that sometimes it can be hard to get a truly unique experience when you run one. Massive races like the New York City Marathon or the London Marathon are so international and cosmopolitan that you don’t quite get the sharpest view of the local flavor of the culture of the city. One area where that’s definitely not the case is Eastern Europe.
After the enforced uniformity of the Soviet era, cities across Eastern Europe are re-embracing their own cultural flourishes. There are few better ways to get a first-hand experience of all that Eastern Europe has to offer than running these can’t-miss european marathons.
The Riga Marathon starts and finishes at the 500-year-old Riga Castle, and runs through both the bustling current downtown and the narrow, cobblestone streets of Old Riga.
The course is forgivingly flat, save for the climb up to the half-mile long Vanšu Bridge, which you’ll cross twice four times in the two-lap race. Riga is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture, which you’ll get to see up close and personal during the race.
Dates: September 19, 2018
Location: Riga, Latvia
Russia boasts several stellar marathons, but the best-kept secret in Russian road running might be the Road of Life, or “Doroga Zhizni” Marathon. This race commemorates the road built across a frozen lake every winter by the Soviet Army to supply the city of Leningrad during the two-year siege of Leningrad during World War Two. It’s held in the middle of the winter, so be ready for some seriously cold running.
While it’ll take a lot of patience and translating to get all the info on the race if you don’t speak Russian, it’s one of the most unique running experiences in all of Europe. January of 2019 will mark the 50th annual Road of Life Marathon and the 75th anniversary of the Siege of Leningrad, so this race promises to be a very big deal in the future.
Dates: January 28, 2018
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
No city in Eastern Europe does the big city marathon better than Budapest. If you want the feel of a major international marathon in a city with a uniquely Eastern European feel, look no further than this 20,000 person race.
Held along the ancient roads that run up and down the banks of the River Danube, you’ll see the castles, bridges, and statues that give Budapest Marathon its distinctive feel.
Dates: October 6-7, 2018
Location: Budapest, Hungary
True to its name, the race offers a disclaimer–don’t be shocked if you run into some wild wolves or bears along the way!
The Transylvanian Bear Race is an all-terrain run through the wilderness of Romania that starts at a fortified church and finishes up an ancient staircase to the top of a citadel. Along the way, you’ll traverse the verdant, beautiful scenery of rural Romania.
True to its name, the race offers a disclaimer–don’t be shocked if you run into some wild wolves or bears along the way! While the shorter version of this race is technically a bit further than a marathon (50k) it’s still a must-do. If you want an even bigger challenge, you can sign up for the 80k. Either option offers a stunning and unparalleled tour of a little-traveled corner of Europe.
Dates: June 2, 2018
Location: Viscri, Romania
If navigating a frozen lake in the dead of winter is not how you wanted to experience Russia, there’s a much easier way to see St. Petersburg by foot: Check out the White Nights Marathon, held every summer in the heart of the city.
With thousands of finishers, you’ll have plenty of company as you make your way through one of the most historic cities in Eastern Europe. You’ll start and finish in the shadow of the city’s iconic Bronze Horseman statue, which honors the founder–none other than Peter the Great.
Dates: July 22, 2018
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
If you want to see the countryside of the Czech Republic, the Hannah Pilsen Trail Radeč Marathon is a perfect way to do it. Starting a bit outside the town of Pilsen, the route winds through single-track dirt trails in the forests in the countryside, up and down some pretty substantial hills.
The race is one of three popular trail races held every year in the Pilsen area—also check out the Letkov 40 (kilometers, of course) in May and the Krkavec Marathon in November.
Dates: March 24, 2018
Location: Pilsen, Czech Republic
Feature image: Buda Castle, Budapest. Photo credit – Dennis JervisLast updated on Oct 19, 2022