City breaks

7 of the worlds best cities for running

By Joanna Booth

1 September 200110 min read

Aerial view of Central Park in New York with golf fields and tall skyscrapers surrounding the park

The world divides into two kinds of people – those of us who pack trainers when we go on holiday, and those who certainly don’t, writes Joanna Booth.

But forget getting cooped up in the bowels of a hotel gym. Runners know that far from being a waste of precious holiday time, jogging through a city is the very best combination of sightseeing and training. Two birds, one stone.

We’ve done the legwork for you and picked out some of the best running routes in seven of your favourite trip destinations – all you need to do is book the trip and sort out your playlist!

New York

Whether you’re a first-timer heading up the Empire State Building or a repeat visitor exploring Harlem and Brooklyn, the Big Apple is a tasty city break prospect.

But as anyone who has traipsed the sidewalks to tick off the Rockefeller Center, the Met and Times Square will know, New York’s heavy traffic and grid system don’t make for smooth running territory.

Thank the running gods then for Central Park ­– there’s nothing quite like watching the morning sun bathe the Manhattan skyline in an apricot glow while bounding through this iconic green space.

The longest route is on Park Drive, where you can knock out a six-mile loop on a paved road. There are separate lanes for runners and cyclists, and these are also subdivided again by the direction you’re running in, so there’s no excuse for collisions. But Central Park isn’t the only training option in the city.

Staying on the West Side? Head for the Hudson River Greenway and run with views of the New Jersey shore to one side and gleaming city skyscrapers to the other. The paved path skirts right along the western edge of Manhattan Island, from the Bronx all the way down to Battery Park, with regular access points along its 11-mile length.

If you’re on the Lower East Side, why not cross the water and run over to Brooklyn? The Williamsburg Bridge will be your best option – it’s generally less prone to foot traffic from tourists than the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge. At just 1.38 miles it’s a nice short jog, so you’ll have plenty of energy left to explore Williamsburg itself, New York’s original hipster neighbourhood.


Amsterdam – city of canals and contrasts. From the high culture of the Rijksmuseum and the tragedy of the Anne Frank Huis, to the snigger-inducing Sex Museum and the heady scent of cannabis from coffee shops, few cities in the world offer such distinct pursuits.

Runners may worry that it’s a spot more associated with two wheels than two legs, but there’s no need to start triathlon training before booking your break.

Last year, after hosting the European Athletics Championships, the city launched four new uninterrupted running routes so you can pound the pavements without irritating traffic stops. These are marked with silver signs and distance markers, and can be found at the old docks at Marineterrein, and in Flevopark, Martin Luther King Park, and Westerpark. The last, though central, is less packed with tourists than some of the city’s other parks, and has outside workout stations dotted through it, so you can get some strength training in too.

Want a longer run? Try running along the pedestrian path alongside the River Amstel – first through the city centre from the ‘skinny’ Magere Bridge, and if you want the full 7 miles each way, on to the cute town of Ouderkerk.

Alternatively, head south to the woods at Amsterdamse Bose, which is nearly three times the size of Central Park, and has three designated routes – 5km along the Bosbaan, 10km for half a lap of the Bos, and a whole lap if you want a half marathon. They all start from the Boswinkel shop, which is useful if you’re running with someone who wants to do a different distance than you. It’s also relatively near Schiphol, so if you’re stopping over on a flight, this one’s for you.


Iceland shouldn’t really be a great running destination. The clue is in the name – cold and slippery aren’t most people’s chosen training conditions.

Those who visit Reykjavik in the winter to see the northern lights and the waterfalls, geysers and landscapes of the Golden Circle in all their frozen glory will need to be committed joggers with the right gear to keep on running, but in the summer months when the days are long, the air fresh and the temperatures warmer, running conditions are near perfect.

Unlike many cities, Reykjavik’s parks are really too small to be good running locations. Happily, the coastal paths to the north and south of the city are fantastic running territory – you can connect the two and run a 17km circle around the old part of Reykjavik with gorgeous ocean views.

Even in the centre of town, pathways aren’t too crowded and these two five and 10km route options allow for a real sightseeing jog, passing the colourful glass Harpa concert hall, the Solfar sculpture of a Viking ship, and the swooping tower of Hallgrimskirkja, the tallest structure in Iceland.

Trail runners are spoilt for choice too. At the edge of the city, Heiðmörk Nature Reserve has 18 miles of gravel paths through beautiful woodland.


Imposing architecture and chocolate cake – these things make Vienna not only a great place for a city break, but also a great place for a run.

Many of Vienna’s signature sights are located along the Ringstrasse, a grand 19th century boulevard built along the route of the city’s original fortifications, which were demolished.

This 57m-wide, 5km-long circular street has been called the grandest in Europe, and it’s home not only to magnificent mansions but also to a whole host of public architecture, from the Parliament building, modelled on a Greek temple, to the gothic City Hall and the neo-Renaissance State Opera. It’s also where you’ll find Hotel Sacher, where the city’s famous Sachertorte was invented.

And a piece of rich chocolate cake would be the perfect reward after a circuit or two of the Ring, and despite the fact the road is busy it’s a pleasant run, with plenty of space between the cars and the buildings and marked biking and walking paths. The route is lined with 2,400 trees – keep an eye out for maple, linden, sycamore and horse chestnut as you jog.

Fans of film noir – or purely of pretty green spaces – can take to their heels in Prater Park, home of the ferris wheel made famous in the Orson Welles film The Third Man. The 4.5km-long Hauptallee is straight as a ruler, and marked by distance markers if you want to do some interval training (just watch out for the horse drawn ‘Fiaker’ carriages), or follow the quieter, 13km City Hiking Trail 9 into the water meadows.

The 21km-long – but only 70-120m-wide – Danube Island has a massive network of trails, but also a city beach, water playground, a surf school and boat rental – so there’s plenty for everyone else if you’re travelling with non-runners.


The soaring glass dome of the Reichstag. The concrete slabs of the heartbreaking Holocaust Memorial. The classical grandeur of the Brandenburg Gate. The colourful graffiti of the remains of the Berlin Wall. There’s a hell of a lot that Berlin is famous for, but for runners, it’s also the place where marathon records are broken.

The flat, fast course is where Dennis Kimetto ran 2:02:57 in 2014, and while you might be unlikely to match that, it’s certainly inspiration enough to get your trainers on.

For sightseeing, you can’t beat a route through the East, starting at Potsdamer Platz and tracing the former route of the wall past Checkpoint Charlie, through the pretty Gendarmenmarkt square and on to Unter den Linden, the Brandenberg Gate and through the Tiergarten – Berlin’s central green lung, which is larger than Hyde Park.

In the west, the park at Charlottenburg Palace has an easy, flat 4km route passing Queen Luise’s mausoleum, the rococo pavilion, and the teahouse – a very civilised way to train.

For something more local – and with fewer tourists – try Tempelhofer Feld. The former airfield to the south of the centre is now a recreation area with a 6km jogging track. Or, if you can wait until next year, there’ll be a whole new green space to explore. IGA, a huge new garden show in the Marzahn district, will run from April to October, and once it’s finished – rather like London’s Olympic Park – the site will revert to a park, creating a perfect new running track.


Many of the things that make Paris appealing for a city break might seem like stumbling blocks to a runner – cobbles, hooting 2CVs, clouds of Gauloises smoke, so much cheese to eat…

You’ll cover a lot of miles inside the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay and the Pompidou Centre, but not at speed. The best way to get an uninterrupted run is to head for one of Paris’s many city centre parks.

Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, who could apparently often be found on the 1.3 mile loop around the Luxembourg Gardens on the East Bank; on the West, you could take in a few circuits of the perimeter of the Tuileries, or brave the crowds and carry on up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomph for a three mile loop.

For longer distances, head a little further from the centre to the wooded Bois du Vincennes and the Bois du Bologne. The latter has 35 miles of trails, and a circuit of the former is around 11k. A warning for those who run late or early – these are not the places for jogging after dark.

If you like dawn or dusk runs, head along the banks of the Seine when the crowds have thinned. Now many sections have been closed to cars, it’s possible to run and sightsee simultaneously. Starting at Notre Dame and heading for the right bank, a seven mile loop takes you past the Pompidou, the Louvre, the Tuileries, and the Place de la Concorde before crossing the river at the Pont d’Ilena and heading back along the beautifully redeveloped Les Berges path.


More famous for partying than pace-setting, you might struggle to get up for an early run after a night out in Spain’s most flamboyant city. But it’s worth the effort. The combination of beach, city and mountain that makes Barcelona so attractive to visit means it has a great set of different running locations too.

For an uninterrupted run with some of the best views over the city – without having to slog uphill yourself – you can’t beat Carretera de les Aigues. At nearly 10km long it’s a great middle distance run, and the flat, unpaved track dotted with water fountains runs along the foot of the Collserola National Park with a bird’s eye view of the city along the entire length. It’s easily accessed by public transport – take the metro to Peu de Funicular, and then the funicular itself up to the pathway.

The 1992 Olympics saw Barcelona’s beaches transformed and a shoreline promenade runs along the length of the coast, providing a lovely flat run with sea views. Starting from the W Hotel, the paved path stretches nearly three miles, passing some weird and wonderful modern sculptures and the Port Olimpica harbour. To extend the run, start instead from the Plaza de Catalunya and run down the pedestrianized Las Ramblas to the shore.

For some hill work, head to Montjuic, Barcelona’s highest point. It’s home to Montjuic Castle, the Olympic Stadium and other venues and many galleries, and at the top there are awesome views across the city. Start from the Mirador de Colom and then get ready to puff as you run the switchback roads up to the Castle. For a nearly seven miles circuit, pass the Botanic Gardens, the Olympic complex, the National Art Museum and the Miro Foundation before heading back down into the city.

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