London | London Marathon

London Marathon

Whether you’re in London to watch the marathon or (gulp) limbering up to run the thing yourself, you’re in for a treat. As well as giving you the chance to see the elite athletes going for glory, the London Marathon has a carnival atmosphere, helped by some big-name participants and the sight of serious runners being overtaken by a man carrying a fridge. It also takes place against the backdrop of some historic landmarks, making it a sporting event that’s hugely popular with spectators. But if you’re coming just to watch, be warned - with 38,000 participating and nearly 44,000 there to cheer them on, even getting to the race can be a gruelling task in itself.

Looking for a hotel near the London Marathon?

Looking for a hotel near the London Marathon? Premier Inn has plenty of central and east London hotels to stay in that are just round the corner from where the runners thunder past. That way you can nab the best vantage point - and you won’t have to get up stupidly early to get the best spot.

The London Marathon
The London Marathon

History

While there were marathons in Britain in the 1970s, they invariably took place down muddy country lanes, watched by only a handful of spectators. So when British runners tried the New York Marathon (which began in 1970), they were amazed by the crowds and the incredible atmosphere - and would invariably come back and tell their friends all about it.

That’s how two former Olympic athletes turned steeplechase runners, Chris Brasher and John Disley, heard about the exciting events happening across the pond. The two were having a drink one night in 1978 in the Dysart Arms next to Richmond Park, where the Ranelagh Harriers would gather after their training runs. That particular evening,.all their fellow runners were talking about was the New York Marathon.

The pair flew to New York to try the event for themselves the next year, and loved it so much they decided to organise a similar race in London. The first London Marathon was held in 1981 and was considered a huge success when 7,000 runners turned up to compete. Fast forward to today and around 250,000 people enter the ballot to take part in the race while 38,000 runners get a place at the start line.

The London Marathon now holds the Guinness World Record for the largest annual fundraising event in the world. Since its launch, London Marathon runners have raised over £770 million for charity.

Getting there

With all roads in the area closed, forget taxis or cars because you’ll have to take public transport to get anywhere. Both London Underground and the Docklands Light Railway put on extra trains, but expect them to be incredibly busy. All runners are entitled to free travel on London Transport, until 6.30pm. For spectators, a great way of getting around is to take the Thames Clipper, the river bus that sails every 20 minutes to and from 15 central London piers.

The London Marathon route

The 26-mile race winds its way through Woolwich, Greenwich, over Tower Bridge, along Victoria Embankment, through Parliament square and finishes in front of Buckingham Palace. But where’s the best place for spectators to stand?

Our top five places to stand

The 26-mile race winds its way through Woolwich, Greenwich, over Tower Bridge, along Victoria Embankment, through Parliament square and finishes in front of Buckingham Palace. But where’s the best place for spectators to stand?

Although officially you’re not encouraged to go to Greenwich to watch the race, the Cutty Sark remains a popular (and beautiful) vantage point. Not only do you get to see the beautifully restored tea clipper up close, heading here lets you see your loved one twice - after you’ve spotted them at the Cutty Sark you can hot foot it through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the Isle of Dogs to watch them hobble past at the 17-mile mark.

If you don’t care really want to see the race through the gap in a stranger’s armpit, head to Surrey Quays, the quietest place in the race. A spot along Salter Road is ideal - the road is long and straight, so you get to see the runners as they approach, pass, and go off into the distance. You can take your pick of waiting spots, but prepare to get cheering, because the runners will need some vocal support to make up for the lack of spectators.

As one of the most recognisable landmarks on the whole route, this is a very popular spot. But if you arrive early you should be able to stake out a place - and it’s worth it for the atmosphere. Although not ideal if you’re short and the crowds may not be great if you have kids, you will be able to see the runners twice, once as they cross the bridge then again as they pass East Smithfield, at the 22-mile mark onto Lower Thames Street. 

The Isle of Dogs is a great place to head for. At Canary Wharf there are events laid on, plus you get to see the runners double back on themselves. But for a smaller crowd and a better view, head to Mudchute – a quietish area of the route where you can view mile 17 of the race. If you have children, Mudchute has the added attraction of its free-to-enter  inner city farm  - so if they get bored you can take them to see the cute animals.

Prepare for tears, sweat and a serious amount of pained expressions as the runners cross the line. Situated close to Buckingham Palace, this area has a great atmosphere and while some areas are allocated to those with tickets, if you turn up early enough you’ll be able to find yourself a space. If you’re here to meet your loved one after the big finish, you’ll find the Meet and Greet area here, in Horseguards Road.

Top tip

The mass race starts at 10am from Blackheath and Greenwich Park, but if you’re watching a loved one, you won’t be able to go with them to the start line. All the assembly areas are for runners only, so work out in advance where you’ll give your last-minute bits of advice.

Planning on meeting up with your friends after the race? Don’t rely on your mobile. Due to the high density of people mobile phone reception can be patchy, so make sure you’ve pre-arranged a place in advance. There is a Meet and Greet area in Horseguards Road.

Refueling after the race

Need to find a place to recover, refuel or just relax after all that gruelling running (or just watching) the London Marathon? Here’s our pick of three places near the finish line.

Champagne

Best pub: The Phoenix

If you like your pubs of the gastro variety, the Phoenix is your place. Perfect for a celebratory glass of bubbly (or just a well-earned craft beer) it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace on the way to Victoria. Warm and welcoming with its soft, pendant lighting, bright fabrics and mismatched tables there’s a hearty, traditionally British menu.

Best cafe: Inn The Park

Fancy a bacon butty? You could even wash it down with a cocktail in this lovely cafe in the heart of St. James’ Park, just a short stagger from the finish line. Beautifully designed to blend seamlessly into the park, there’s a restaurant if you fancied something more formal with a glass of wine, or a self-service cafe if you just fancied having coffee and a big slab of cake.

Achy legs at The London Marathon

Best for achy legs: Spa Illuminata

After all that running (or spectating), give your body a pampering treat by taking yourself to Spa Illuminata in nearby Mayfair. Winner of the Conde Nast best day spa award, you can start your visit in the steam room, then choose from a range of signature treatments.

Perfect for aching legs has to be the Rescue massage, where warm Lava Shells are used to relax tired muscles and reduce aches and pains.