12 Cities That Were Built For Running Holidays
Whether on a business trip, mini-break, romantic surprise or gruesome stag mistake, this year may well take you to some strange new locations. And the best way to really get beyond first base with a new destination is on foot, and at speed.
While working out new routes in bustling city centres can seem off-putting, it’s worth putting a bit of leg work in before you go to find those hidden gems. You won’t be alone – such is the growth of tourism on the run, that many hotels now have their own “run stations” in the lobby, with suggested route maps for guests, and bottles of water and towels to greet them on their return.
Things To Be Aware Of
- Do basic research about the rules of the road: which way will traffic come from? Do cars have to stop at crossings, or not? Are red lights obeyed, or seemingly optional
- Look at maps and plan the route in advance: aside from using up your data, constantly looking at a map on your phone isn’t the best way to see what’s around you
- Leave your room key at reception, but make sure you’ve written down the name and address of your hotel.
- Check your neighbourhood: ask a local or at the hotel if there are any areas best avoided for safety reasons. Take it easy: it’s not the time for hardcore training. Jet lag is hard on the body, new climates can take it out of you.
For the tourist running in New York, it’s nigh-on impossible not to feel like you’ve stumbled on to a film set. Put on Empire State Of Mind, crank the volume up to max and just go with it.
Central Park may be the obvious running spot for anyone staying in Midtown Manhattan, but there are more scenic routes worth exploring. The Hudson River Greenway runs along the river from the Bronx in the north all the way down to Battery Park (the southern tip of Manhattan) and takes in some fabulous views – or for a short loop head across to Brooklyn via Brooklyn Bridge and back via Manhattan Bridge, or vice versa. Manhattan skyline-selfies are strictly optional.
Prospect Park in Brooklyn itself is a calmer oasis, away from crowds and traffic, but near plenty of hipster joints for post-run refuelling.
It’s hard to imagine a city better designed for running, with more shady forest paths and seafront routes than even the most dedicated runner could explore in one trip. Not to mention some fabulous restaurants and bars for post-run treats.
At the city’s heart lies beautiful 405-hectare Stanley Park, surrounded by the waters of Vancouver bay. Run around the meandering Sea Wall, from where you might spot seals and even whales, or cut inside it to spot raccoons, beavers and even bald eagles. Runners with sturdy quads can try the Grouse Grind – a 2.9km trail straight up the face of Grouse Mountain. Not for nothing is it referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”.
Barcelona is a city where the early-rising runner will be rewarded with beautiful light and empty streets. With some four million inhabitants in a relatively small area, the central areas can become very tricky to navigate at any speed once the working day is underway – and the sleepy tourists are up. But an early loop taking in the rose-laden Parc de Cervantes, or following the shady Rambla down to the sea is more than ample reward for setting the alarm clock.
Or you can head up steep Montjuic, for stunning views – and jelly legs. While you are up there, take in the Olympic Stadium – and jog around the warm-up track. Finish off, naturally, with churros and chocolate.
The cobbled streets, narrow pavements and twisting roads of Paris can seem off-putting for regular runners. But just outside the central ring you have the two lungs of Paris – to the east, the Bois de Vincennes, and to the west, the Bois de Boulogne.
The Bois de Vincennes boasts a huge 32km of car-free roads – you can run for hours without having to double back or repeat stretches, and there are handy signposts throughout. The woods of Boulogne also boast paths galore, and those worried about getting lost can stick to looping Lac Inférieur – about 2.5km around. For pure run tourism, you can even run around the park which encircles the Eiffel Tower, though you’ll have to do a lot of people-dodging.
Coastal cities undeniably have the edge when it comes to running routes, and Split is no different. Just make sure you switch direction or you’ll get a crick in your neck looking out at that gorgeous sea view… Croatia’s stunning coastline has miles of coastal paths with sea views and the tempting prospect of ending a hot run in the sea. And the great advantage that following a coastline and back makes it impossible to get lost.
Within the city, there’s shady Marjan Park, rising gently above the centre. Well, gently until you tackle the steeper paths, anyway. At over 3km long, there are endless internal routes and loops, as well as a fine array of outdoor gym equipment if you fancy a mid-run chin-up.
There are few cities that can make London seem like an oasis of serenity, but Tokyo is one, in all its hectic, crazy glory. Densely populated, with skyscrapers creating a tunnel-like feel to some of the main streets, you’ll want to avoid the central roads, not least because jaywalking is just not the done thing. If you plan in advance, there are truly wonderful running routes, from the Tama river’s endless trail, to the silence of densely wooded Yoyogi Park.
But the best route for scenery, and people-watching, is the 5km loop – complete with clearly marked running lane – around the Imperial Palace. If you are lucky enough to visit Japan in cherry blossom season, then running along the Meguro River is a must.
A sprawling, constantly evolving, dusty city at altitude with horrific traffic and mushrooming building sites might not seem like running nirvana, but get up early and head to Meskal Square and you’ll find yourself in the thick of hundreds of runners, running up and down the lengthy steps. Recreational joggers are on the rise, but many of these are athletes-in-training, dreaming of becoming one of the great names of Ethiopian distance running alongside Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
Jan Meda, the horse racing course, is another great running spot (it’s where the Great Ethiopian Run finishes) and in the hills outside the city, the trails through the woods are stunning. Just avoid the city itself.
The most popular route in Melbourne is undoubtedly “The Tan” – a not-quite-4km loop around the Royal Botanic Gardens. It even has markers every 250m and clocks to keep an eye on your lap times. Be warned: it’s not flat.
Another is Albert Park, a tad short of 5km around the lake, with 500m markers. Further afield, the Dandenong Ranges (about 40km outside Melbourne) is a huge national park with an almost limitless supply of trails, although your calves might not thank you for it after.
If you prefer the flat, you can run along the Melbourne seafront for as long or as short as you like – though St Kilda’s iconic sea baths is a great place to finish. Not least because of the many local cafés for excellent cake…
As you might expect from a famously alternative city (and in a state which houses the HQs of both Nike and Adidas America), Portland is positively awash with running routes – with hundreds of miles of trail, clean air and a mild climate. With its bike and pedestrian-friendly ethos, it’s more a question of where you can’t run than where you can.
There are scenic paths along the Willamette River, and the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is a great place to start. Terwilliger Boulevard, though it is downtown, has a very wide sidewalk and more beautiful views. To the north west and south west of the city things get decidedly more hilly, but Forest Park is a popular choice, with its wide gravelled shady road.
One of the most scenic of Britain’s cities is also one of its most runnable. Royal Terrace and Old Royal High School form part of an attractive route that also takes in the National Monument of Scotland if you have the legs and inner fortitude to make it up Calton Hill. You can’t spend too much time enjoying the view though because you’ve got to get yourself down to Princes Street and then up Castle Rock – from there you can take the Royal Mile and on to the Scottish Parliament. You’ll have earned every dram you enjoy later in the day.
The cobblestones of Prague’s stunning medieval Old Town Square are best appreciated at a gentle amble, but that famous beer and those hearty dumplings taste even better when you’ve earned them with a run.
Above the river on the north bank of the Vltava lies Letna Park. From the city centre, cross Cechuv bridge and climb up the 200 steps. Don’t worry, once you are up there it’s pancake flat, but with stunning views over the river to Prague Castle.
For pure sightseeing, you can’t beat a riverside run, but there are many cobbled areas to navigate and – as you might imagine – actually running along Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge is nigh-on impossible. No shortage of places to rehydrate afterwards, however.
Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a runner is to miss out on a spot in the London Marathon, as it often leads to them opting for Vienna’s event, also staged in April, instead.
The Austrian capital is a runner’s paradise. You can take in the city’s best architecture with a jog around the Ringstrasse – although you’ll want to go early before cyclists take over the road – or head for greener surroundings in the sizeable Prater Park.
Best of all, however, are the picturesque trails on Donauinsel (Danube Island) – a 21km strip of land in the famous river that’s just a few minutes away from the city centre.
– By Kate Carter
How To Prepare For A Race Abroad
If you’ve ever been for a run outdoors, you’ll need no convincing that it’s great for both your mental and physical health. And while training runs are all well and good, nothing can beat the buzz of taking part in an organised race, especially in a distance you’ve never done before because you’ll be guaranteed a personal best.
The trouble is that securing a starting spot at many big UK races is far harder than all the training: for instance, more than 385,000 people applied for the 17,500 ballot places at this year’s London Marathon. Instead, consider entering a race on foreign shores. Events are not as over-subscribed as British races, and they’re often cheaper to enter. Even better, you can combine your active adventure with a long weekend and get to see more of the world.
I’ve recently run two half marathons abroad: the Chia Laguna half in Sardinia and the Semi de Paris. I loved both – the scenery in Sardinia (pictured above) was spectacular because the entire route was along the coast, and the atmosphere in Paris was amazing – but I could have run better had I prepared better. There’s more to do and to remember when you race outside the UK.
So I asked Shaun Dixon, an elite runner and coach and founder of letsgetrunning.co.uk, for his tried and tested tips for when he races abroad.
“Many European races require you to present a medical certificate from a doctor stating you are fit to race before they will give you your race number. Fail to get one and they won’t let you run, so book an appointment to get one, or if you have one check it’s still valid and that they accept older certificates.”
Get in the zone
“If possible, travel a couple of days before the race to allow yourself to acclimatise to the race destination. If not, and there is a significant time-zone difference to deal with, adjust your daily routine while still at home for a few days in advance. Practise waking up, eating and going to bed at those times you will around race day.”
Move your muscle
“Have a short ‘shakeout’ run as soon as you can after you arrive at your destination. It only needs to be a nice easy 20-minute run followed by some light stretching to undo all that stiffness that can build up from travelling, especially if you’ve been sat in the same position for hours on end.”
“Do your homework on the location, specifically the best routes to and from the race expo and the start and finish lines. Be absolutely clear on the starting instructions, including bag drop, and make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the start line. And study the route so you’re not shocked by the huge hill with a mile to go, or the second half of the race that’s into a headwind. Check the weather forecasts and pack your kit accordingly. Not sure if you need sunscreen? Pack it anyway.”
“If you’re tempted to see the sights before the race, don’t be too ambitious, because you want your legs to be as fresh as possible for the event and for your energy levels to be high, not spent. If you’re tight for time, take a bus tour and see the sites with the weight off your feet.”
“Research restaurants close to your accommodation and book a table for your meals before and after the race. [Olympic and world championship medal-winning triathletes] the Brownlee brothers have a tried and tested formula for their pre-race dinner – pizza! Why? It’s full of carbs, it’s a safe bet and you can find an Italian restaurant anywhere in the world. Follow a similar formula: choose something familiar and easy to get hold of to fill up your energy stores.”
–By Joe Warner