Both watching and running the London Marathon are incredible experiences, but spectators get the not inconsiderable bonus of not having to cover 42.2km on foot, or do several months of marathon training.
The support given to runners is superb all around the London Marathon course, so a good time is guaranteed anywhere along the route, but there are normally several spots that are better than others, depending on what your goal is. Some will want to see their runner and, just as importantly, be seen by their runner; some will just want a big crowd to revel in the party atmosphere; others will want exactly the opposite—a quiet place to watch the race go by. Well, quieter—strictly speaking nowhere on the route can be called quiet.
There are three obvious choices for those who want to watch and enjoy a red-hot atmosphere: the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and The Mall. You can actually bag a two-for-one on that trio by heading to the Cutty Sark first to see your runner at around the seven-mile marker, then quickly decamping to The Mall to cheer them through to the finish line.
That said, if you’re not setting up camp very early at any of these spots, you will struggle to see much of anything, and the sheer numbers of people that are still likely to amass there might be off-putting for many.
Another popular place where you’ll have a better chance of seeing the race is the 1.5-mile stretch between Tower Bridge and Limehouse. Runners go both ways down this section – heading east towards Canary Wharf after crossing Tower Bridge at mile 13, then west for the finish after a loop around the Isle of Dogs – so you get two chances to wave and cheer.
Speaking of the Isle of Dogs, this section of the race has long had a reputation for being a little quieter, especially around Mudchute. However, that reputation seems to have resulted in more people heading there, so now it’s not too different from anywhere else on the course.
Generally the quietest places on the route are south of the river, with the exceptions of near the start at Greenwich Park and the Cutty Sark. If you head to Woolwich you’ll have a good chance of standing at the side of the road to see runners between miles two and four, and you’ll then also have plenty of time to get to another spot on the course to see them again.
Wherever you plan on watching the race, there are a few golden rules. The first is to get there early: London’s transport will be extremely busy so journeys will take longer, and if you’re late you might end up with a wall of people between you and the road.
The second rule is to know how fast the runner you’re supporting is. You can get an estimate from them and use that to get in position at the right time, but it’s a good idea to download the London Marathon tracker app. If the runner you’re coming to see carries their phone with them, they can enable GPS tracking in the London Marathon app on their phone so you will be able to see their precise location. Otherwise you’re limited to seeing when they pass one of nine timing gates and will need to keep a sharp eye out once they pass the nearest gate to you.
We’d also suggest that the smartest spectators don’t just head to the race in time to see their friends and family go by. You want to get there nice and early to catch the elite field coming through, because the London Marathon 2023 features some stellar athletes.
The final thing to consider is how you are going to meet up with your runner after the race, if you plan to. The smartphone signal around the finish area of the race is often unreliable owing to the crowds, so your best bet is to agree on a letter to meet under in the Meet and Greet Area around Horse Guards Parade. All 26 are on offer and all are clearly marked so you can see them from a distance. Pick one in advance and hang around there until your runner makes it through the finish area and bag collection.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.