Urban Exploration, or Urbex for short, is a hobby that involves going into abandoned man-made structures such as hospitals, schools, factories, sewers, tunnels, and any other building that society has left behind, with the intention of exploring them.
It’s a hobby that’s been around for several decades. It’s grown in popularity recently these past years due mostly because of the internet.
People who take part in this hobby of exploring abandoned buildings are called Urban Explorers.
I am one of those people. I am an urban explorer (hence the blog name Urbex-I-Am).
If you’re reading this article then you’re probably interested in urbex. That’s great. I created this entire website so I could teach people like you everything I know about urban exploration.
There are thousands of urban explorers spread out across the world. Urban exploration is a hobby that anyone can take part in. No matter where in the world you are, there will always be abandoned buildings that you can explore.
To be an urban explorer, you only need two things. An abandoned building and the desire to explore it.
Why We Do It
Most people don’t understand our fascination with abandoned locations. They think we, urban explorers, are irrational or crazy for wanting to explore an abandonment. Maybe they’re right.
“Why would anyone want to go into an empty building to have a look around, that’s silly.”
This is something that people who aren’t into urbex will say.
There are a number of reasons we urban explorers enjoy this hobby. To list a few:
- Being inside an abandoned building, especially a very old one, is like stepping back in time. I can’t put into words the feelings you get when your first step foot inside a building that’s been sitting empty for half a century. That first glance of the inside of the building is always amazing. As you’re looking around your mind starts to wander and you’re completely focused on nothing but what’s in front of you. It’s something you have to experience for yourself to understand.
- There’s something innate in us humans that desire the need for exploration. Unfortunately, we live in the 21st century where there’s not much left to explore. So we turn to abandoned buildings to fulfill that desire.
- Some urban explorers partake in this hobby because they like to document abandoned locations to preserve their history. This especially rings true of buildings with interesting histories such as insane asylums, prisons, mansions, hospitals, or any other place where something beautiful or horrendous happened. Lots of old buildings tend to get demolished or damaged. Some urban explorers like to go in and take photos/videos of the location before they’re gone forever.
- Some urban explorers see this hobby as a temporary escape from their everyday lives. Being inside a quiet empty building with nothing but your thoughts can be somewhat calming/therapeutic in a way.
Every urban explorer has his/her reasons for taking part in urbex. Not everyone does it for the same reason.
Who Takes Part In Urban Exploration?
Urbex is a hobby that anyone can take part in.
From my experience, people between the ages of 15-40 are the ones most attracted to urbex. Both males and females.
Some people do it not because they want to explore abandoned buildings, but because they want to photograph them.
They do this to either preserve the history of the building or simply because they like to photograph abandoned locations.
There’s also, of course, us, urban explorers. We do it simply because we want to wander around an empty building for one reason or another.
Photographers, historians, and people who simply like to see abandoned buildings are generally the ones most attracted to urbex.
Is Urban Exploration Legal?
This is a question most new people getting into urbex always ask.
Is it legal to explore abandoned buildings? The answer isn’t always a yes or no.
Most places we explore are restricted to public access. Even if the location is clearly abandoned, most of the time there is an owner. Even if the building isn’t fenced up or have “No Trespassing” signs on it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t owned by someone.
Making your way inside an abandoned location without the owner’s permission, means you are trespassing. Therefore, yes it is illegal.
But that isn’t always the case.
There are several locations that are freely accessible to the public that are also abandoned. In that case, no it’s not illegal to go in and explore.
You don’t have to break the law to take part in urbex.
We, urban explorers, are well aware of the risks of going into abandoned buildings. We take several precautions to avoid detection so as not to be caught.
If you’re wanting to stay on the safe side, before you make your way into an abandoned building you’re wanting to explore, do some quick research first. Just to make sure you’re not illegally trespassing.
You can avoid getting into trouble with just a simple 5 minute Google search.
Often times you can even ask the owners of an abandoned building if you can go in and have a look around. You could say you’re a photographer or amateur historian and simply want to document the location. Sometimes owners will grant you permission to go right in.
Can You Get In Trouble For Urban Exploring?
If you are caught trespassing onto private property, yes you can get into trouble with the property owners or the law.
Most of the time, not always, if you are caught exploring by the owners they will most likely just ask you to leave.
Unless you’ve damaged the building you’re exploring in any way, the person who caught you will not want to deal with having to call the cops and filing a report with the police.
Though this isn’t always the case. So don’t bet on this happening if you are caught urban exploring.
Just be careful of where you’re going and try not to get spotted. Depending on the location, most of the time you’ll easily get in and out of a building without anyone seeing you. You just have to be careful and use common sense.
The chance of you getting into serious trouble for being caught urban exploring is very slim. Though it can happen. So be aware of that.
If you’re caught, be respectful to the person that confronts you and say you’re only there to take photos. Apologize and say you’re leaving.
People getting in trouble with the law for exploring does happen but it usually ends with simply being told to leave the building and not come back.
Is Urban Exploration Safe?
Urbex is a dangerous hobby, there’s no denying that.
Urban exploration takes you into abandoned places that most of society has forgotten about. There are several dangers that this hobby carries.
You have to remember that you’re inside an abandoned building that most likely has not been taken care of for many years.
Ceilings can collapse, stairways could be unstable, floors can cave in. If you’re exploring sewers, they can easily flood. Other dangers of urban exploration involve toxic materials. Such as asbestos or fumes that you can accidentally inhale.
This is why if you’ve watched urban exploration youtube videos, you’ll often see them wearing facemasks to avoid inhaling these dangerous fumes.
Abandoned buildings also tend to attract a completely different group of people other than urban explorers. Drug dealers, junkies, squatters and many other people could be present inside an abandoned building you’re exploring.
Some may react aggressively towards you being in the same area as them.
Urbex is not an easy hobby. It has its dangers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.
With the proper preparation and gear, you can easily stay safe while urban exploring.
What Gear Do I Need For Urban Exploring?
Urban exploration doesn’t require any special type of gear. You can walk into an abandoned building right now with nothing but your cell phone to use as a flashlight and you’d probably be fine.
The reason I, and so many other experienced urban explorers, recommend you carry at least some basic gear with you is so you can stay safe.
You never know what you will come across in an abandoned building.
Some urbex gear you should consider having is:
These are some of the most important gear you should take with you when urban exploring. Check out my urbex gear article I wrote. I explain in detail the type of gear that I personally carry and recommend.
Like I mentioned previously, urban exploring isn’t always safe. I don’t say this to scare you, I’m simply stating the obvious.
The type of clothes you wear when urban exploring is also part of your gear. If you don’t wear the proper clothes you could end up with scratches, bruises, or worse. Choose your clothes carefully.
Ideally, you’d want to wear clothes which you don’t mind getting dirty or torn up. A durable pair of jeans, long sleeve t-shirt and your choice of footwear is most important.
You want to make sure your body isn’t exposed to any potential dangers.
A pair of boots are preferable to a pair of sneakers. If you were to step on an exposed nail it could easily go through your sneaker and into your foot where it could cause you serious harm.
Wearing shorts over a pair of jeans leaves your legs exposed where your skin can accidentally rub against tough materials and leave bloody scrapes.
Choose your gear carefully and always carry it with you when out exploring.
It’s true that you won’t always need to use all the gear you take with you. There will be times when you don’t need your facemask or gloves, but it doesn’t hurt to keep them in your backpack at all times.
If the need to use any of your gear arises during your exploration, you can easily pull it out. Better safe than sorry.
What Are The Rules Of Urbex?
Some urban explorers say urban exploration by nature doesn’t have any rules.
I disagree with that.
As you already know, urbex is a dangerous hobby. So it makes sense to have a set of rules to follow to both stay safe and out of trouble.
The rules that I’ve laid out below are only a couple that I think every new urban explorer should know and follow.
Those urbex rules are:
- Don’t break into buildings
- Don’t vandalize a building
- Accept that some places are off-limits
- Don’t steal anything from a place you’re exploring
- Don’t share location information with anyone you don’t know
- Take photos, lots of them (Optional)
- Don’t run if you are caught
You’ve probably heard the quote “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”. It’s a rule most urban explorers live by.
In simple terms, when you explore an abandoned building, respect the place and leave it the same way you found it. We do this so that the next urban explorer can enjoy the abandonment the same way you did.
How To Find Abandoned Places To Explore
So you want to be an urban explorer, huh?
You have the desire to explore and now all you need is to find an abandoned building.
As a new urban explorer, you will struggle with finding places near you to explore. I went through that same struggle when I first got started with urbex. Practically every urban explorer in the world will go through this struggle.
Finding places near you to explore can be difficult, but not impossible!
Keep that in mind and don’t get frustrated if you can’t find an abandoned building within your first 5 minutes of searching on Google.
Over the years I have discovered several methods to easily find abandoned buildings. I’ve used these methods to find countless locations where my friends and I can go in and have a look around.
What are those methods you ask? Well for a small price of $999 I will tell you.
I’m joking! I won’t actually charge you anything. I’ll give you what you want, just keep on reading.
Find Places To Explore Using Google Maps
Google Maps is an urban explorer’s best friend. There is no better tool out there that helps you find abandoned buildings to explore.
Practically every urban explorer I know uses Google Maps to find and scout out locations they’re going to explore.
How you use Google Maps to find places to explore is not that difficult but it’s not too easy either. It takes a bit of time and perseverance to actually find what you’re looking for. But trust me, this method works!
I wrote an entire article on how to use Google Maps to find places near you to explore that is more in-depth. I’ll try and summarize it here for you.
Google Maps on its own won’t show you the location of abandoned buildings. There is no special setting on Google Maps that outlines abandoned buildings in your area. What you have to do is use Google Search in combination with Google Maps to find what you’re looking for.
Not many people know this but Google Search allows for the use of “Operators”. Which is a way to restrict your searches to a specific keyword or set of keywords.
Say for example you search on Google for abandoned buildings in Los Angeles. Google Search will return millions of results. But of course, you don’t have the time or desire to sift through each and every page in hopes of finding what you’re actually looking for.
So what these operators allow you to do is filter your search down to a specific keyword/s. By using quotes around the phrases you are searching for, Google will only show you pages that are exact matches. Rather than the broad results you would get from a standard search.
How you restrict your search on Google Search is by simply including quotations (” ”) and addition symbol (+) in your queries.
If you type into Google Search the following: “Los Angeles” + “abandoned buildings”.
Google will only show you pages that contain those exact two keywords. This helps you narrow down your search significantly.
By using operators, you have a better chance of finding what you’re looking for. You still have to sift through the search results but now you know that each and every single page Google is showing you contains those exact two keywords.
Which will hopefully help you find abandoned buildings in Los Angeles.
You don’t have to use those exact two keywords that I used in the example above. You can use any keywords that you think will help you find an abandoned building in your area.
For example, you could search for:
- “San Diego” + “Burned down building”
- “Seattle” + “Abandoned Houses”
- “Denver” + “Empty buildings”
- “Atlanta” + “Vacant hospital”
- “Austin” + “Urbex” + “abandoned”
- “Miami” + “Abandoned Mansion”
You get the idea. Type in your city name in quotes and include keywords that you think will help you find abandoned buildings.
Once you find the name or address of a building that you think is abandoned, now it’s time to head on over to Google Maps. This is the relatively easier part. Type in the address of the location you found and you will get to see a satellite view of the area.
There you can decide if the building is abandoned or not.
Repeat this process as many times as you want. I guarantee you’ll find several abandoned buildings to explore.
If for whatever strange reason the Google method didn’t work out for you, it’s time to go old-school.
Drive Around Your City Looking For Abandoned Buildings
Urban exploration has existed since before the invention of the internet.
How urban explorers found places to explore was by either word of mouth or by them driving around their city looking for abandoned buildings.
Hop in your car and drive around your area. Keep your eyes peeled for places that look like they’ve been abandoned.
Some tell-tell signs of abandoned buildings are:
- Broken windows/doors
- No lights inside buildings
- Graffiti on walls
- Overgrown grass and unkempt area around the building
- No cars around
If you think you’ve found an empty building to explore, don’t go in yet.
Get the address of the location or name of the building/s. Now it’s time to do some quick research and planning.
Research and Planning
Before you go into ANY abandoned building, do some research and planning.
You’ve found an abandoned building to explore using one of the methods I listed above, great.
Before you go inside the building, get on Google and type in the address/name of the building you’ve found and see if you can find any information on the building itself.
The more you know about a location before you go in and explore, the better.
The reason you do this is to stay safe. You don’t know what the building was used for or what has happened to it since it was abandoned.
By doing a quick 5-minute search on Google you can see if the building has any potential dangers you should be aware of while you’re inside.
Knowing what the building was used for or what has happened to it since it was abandoned also gives you an idea as to the type of gear you should take with you.
The building could’ve been abandoned decades ago and mold and asbestos could be present in the building. Now you know to take a respirator mask and hand gloves with you.
The planning stage is quite simple too.
Find the building on Google Maps to get a satellite overview of the entire building. By doing this you get a general idea of the layout of the entire building before you even go inside.
Knowing the layout of the outside of the building could help you find potential entrances and exits, or areas of the building to avoid.
Now that you have an idea of the layout of the building and its surroundings, make a plan on how you will get inside the building.
Plan where you will park your car and make your entrance from. Plan possible exits in case you run into trouble and have to get out of there in a hurry.
The research and planning is something I recommend you do every single time you’re about to go into a new abandoned building.
It takes less than 20 minutes to do, so don’t skip it.
Get Out There And Start Exploring!
The reason I decided to write this article is that it dawned on me that not everyone who visits my blog knows about urban exploration.
I’ve had a couple of people tell me they’ve found my blog by accident and enjoyed reading all about urbex. So I decided to go into detail about exactly what is urbex and how to partake in this awesome hobby.
I touched on what urban exploration is all about, why we enjoy doing it, is it legal, what gear is needed, how to find abandoned places to explore and the research and planning of it.
In one article I wrote what I think any new person who’s interested in urbex should know about this hobby.
If you’re new to urbex but haven’t actually gone out and explored, it’s time to change that. You now know the basics of this hobby and how to get started.
Now it’s time for you to gather up a friend or two and get out there to start exploring!