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A running tourist in Europe: three lesser-known destinations

Planning a running vacation? Start your search with these three great European running cities

It’s always nice to get away for a while–to break out of the routine of everyday life and to head somewhere new. But as runners, it can be tough to ignore our training while we’re away on holidays. Luckily, you don’t have to choose between a getaway and running. Here are three European destinations you should consider visiting for your next run vacation. So pack your bags, get ready to run on some cobblestone streets, and prepare for the runcation of your life.

Riga, Latvia

Latvia probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for people looking for a running getaway, but this Baltic city has a lot to offer to runners and tourists alike. Following the Daugava River and weaving through the city’s cobblestone streets provides the optimal scenery for your morning run.

Athletes in the final kilometre of the Riga half-marathon.

Best time to visit?

The Latvian winter generally gives way to spring by April, and by May and June the temperature creeps beyond 20 C. Despite how far north Riga is situated, it still hits average highs of about 24 C in July and August.

As a bonus, due to its high latitude, the Latvian spring and summer days are super long. In June and July, the sun rises in Riga before 5 a.m. and doesn’t set until after 10 p.m. That gives you 17 hours of daylight to work with to fit in a workout before or after you go sightseeing.

Why not race?

The Riga Marathon is a massive event. This IAAF Gold Label race is held annually in May and offers 6k, 10k, half- and full marathon options. Runners follow the route along the Daugava River and through the narrow streets of Riga, and the course is lined with thousands of locals, making it easy to find the motivation to keep pushing.

The race bibs display each runner’s name, and if the bystanders see you struggling or walking, they won’t hesitate to call out your name and cheer you on personally. If you’re thinking of visiting Riga in the spring, consider adding the Riga Marathon to your race schedule.

While you’re there

Latvia is sandwiched between its Baltic neighbours, Estonia and Lithuania. Unlike Canada, where you can drive for eight hours and still find yourself in the same province, everything in Europe is compact and close together.

For under $20, you can buy a bus ticket to go four hours north to Tallinn, Estonia, or four hours south to Vilnius, Lithuania. Like Riga, both of these capital cities also host marathons. You already made the trip that far, so why not see (and run in) as many places as you can?

Aarhus, Denmark

Host city of the 2019 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships, Aarhus is a runner’s dream. This coastal city offers such a variety of routes, whether you choose to hit the trails, follow the waterfront or take it downtown.

Aarhus harbour, opposite the half-marathon course

Best time to visit?

Due to its proximity to the sea, Aarhus sees moderate temperatures year-round. Even on days when it’s rainy, the mild temperatures make it comfortable for running, and you’ll probably end up removing extra layers before you finish your workout. So, if you’re not afraid of a little rain (or a lot of it) and you don’t mind skipping a vacation by the beach, Aarhus at any time of the year is the place for you.

Why not race?

The Aarhus City Half Marathon is a “unique run in the heart of Aarhus” held annually in June. The city of 330,000 shuts down completely for the event, blocking all roads headed downtown, and the course is packed with cheering fans from start to finish. The main event is the half-marathon, but there is an 11K option called “Run With Me.” Unfortunately, runners cannot sign up for the 11K on their own. Instead, this option is only available for runners willing to hop in at the 10K mark of the half-marathon and pace a friend to the finish.

So, if you’re taking the trip with someone else who isn’t in for the full 21.1K, ask them to join you for just over 10. In addition to the City Half Marathon, there are many other races–both road and trail–held in Aarhus over the course of the year. If you choose Aarhus for your running vacation, regardless of the time of year, take a look to see if there’s a race while you’re there.

While you’re there

If you fly to Aarhus, you’ll have a layover in Copenhagen. You should plan to spend a few days in the Danish capital. Not only is it an amazing city, but like Aarhus, it offers runners some great running opportunities and is a nice place to explore on a run. Copenhagen also hosts two races, a marathon in May and and a half-marathon in September.

While in Copenhagen, you can take the 30-minute trip across the Øresund Bridge to Malmö, Sweden, which has many quiet and peaceful routes for runners. If you’re around in April or October, consider signing up for a road race.

Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the final destination for the many routes of the 800-kilometre Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that has inspired hikers everywhere to travel to Spain and hike towards the centuries-old cathedral, which are believed to house the bones of St. James. Though relatively few people run the routes as opposed to hiking, this wealth of trails offers plenty of running opportunities, and there are towns and villages offering food and accommodation approximately every five to 10 kilometres.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Photo: Camino de Santiago/Twitter



Best time to visit?

The Santiago de Compostela winter is far from what Canadians would consider cold, with the average temperature sitting around 12 C. If you’re OK with giving up the sun and beach from a tropical vacation you could take instead, January to April is an ideal time for some great trail running in northwestern Spain. Trail running is hard work, and it doesn’t take long to get the blood pumping and to warm your body up. The low to mid teens are perfect conditions for a comfortable run in Santiago de Compostela.

Why not race?

Not far from Santiago de Compostela there is a racing opportunity in Pontevedra. The Medio Maratón de Pontevedra (Pontevedra Half-Marathon) is held annually in October, and although it is only a half-hour from the trails and hills of Santiago de Compostela, the course is relatively flat. If you’re not too tired from the time spent running on the trails, this race could be a good one to try.

While you’re there

Hop on the train and take the short ride from Santiago de Compostela to Pontevedra. In 2019, Pontevedra hosted the ITU Multisport World Championships, which featured duathlon, aquathlon and cross and long course triathlons. In 1999, the city banned cars from its downtown core, making Pontevedra the perfect city for runners.

If you’re in search of some seaside running, head to any of Pontevedra’s neighbouring towns, many of which are situated on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Between the trails, the lack of cars and the ocean views, Santiago de Compostela and its surrounding area might have you thinking about moving to Spain.