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The Best Places For Spectators To Watch The London Marathon 2021

London Marathon
(Image credit: Unknown)

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. The support runners receive is superb all around the 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.

Things are a little different for this year’s event, with the organisers asking people to invite just one supporter to cheer them on. Organisers are also encouraging people not to gather in large groups, and stewards will be asking people to move on if areas do become overcrowded.

This will affect some of the most popular spots for supporters, but even with people spacing out more than normal 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.

London Marathon

(Image credit: Unknown)

If you’re after a twofer – and who isn’t? – the Cutty Sark (pictured above) is just after the seven-mile marker so spectators have the option to leave for The Mall after spotting their runner to cheer them on during the final stretch. 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, especially this year.

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 roadside 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 app (opens in new tab) and track them live so you know when they’re about to pass you, just in case they fly out of the blocks or hit the wall earlier than expected.

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 2021 features some stellar athletes, including women’s world record holder and two-time London winner Brigid Kosgei and 2020 men’s winner Shura Kitata.

The final thing to consider is how you are going to meet up with your runner after the race, if you plan to. There is no bag drop for this year’s event so runners might not have their phone with them at the end, and even if they do there’s a chance the signal around the finish area of the race will be unreliable owing to the crowds.

Your best bet is to agree on a letter to meet under in the Meet and Greet Area around Horseguards Parade. The full 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.

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.