The Complete Guide to Urbex for Beginners

The Complete Guide to Urbex for Beginners

Urban Exploration, often referred to as urbex, is an exciting and unconventional hobby that invites you to explore abandoned and off-limits places. Whether you’re captivated by the allure of decaying architecture, intrigued by the mysteries of forgotten history, or seeking the perfect shot for your camera, urbex has something to offer everyone of all ages.

In this comprehensive guide tailored specifically for beginners, we’ll delve into the world of urban exploration, covering what it entails, who participates, the legal and safety aspects to consider, how to find abandoned places, and the hazards you should watch out for when embarking on your first urbex adventure.

What is Urbex?

Urbex, also known as urban exploration, means visiting and exploring places that have been abandoned or are generally inaccessible to the public. This includes a wide range of site types, from old factories and derelict hospitals to abandoned castles and even underground tunnels and drainage systems. It’s an opportunity to uncover forgotten stories and capture the unique beauty of these hidden places.

Who Does Urban Exploration?

Lainey Tess Quinn, founder of Abandoned World Photography
Lainey Tess Quinn, founder of Abandoned World Photography

Urbex attracts a diverse group of individuals, each with their own motivations. Some are passionate photographers who use urbex locations as their muse, while others are thrill-seeking explorers who revel in the adventure of discovery. There are also historians who see urbex as a way to connect with the past and share it with others. Most of us, however, treat urbex as a combination of all this, as an integral whole.

The Legal Aspects of Urban Exploration

Legal issues regarding urbex are a very controversial topic. Many people have different opinions about the legality of visiting abandoned places and the topic is more complicated than it may initially seem.

Firstly, each country has different legal regulations and sanctions for breaking them, which should be taken into account especially when urbexing abroad. However, in most countries, entering private property is considered an offense and may be punishable by law.

I recommend contacting the facility’s owner and asking for the opportunity to visit and take photos. However, such efforts are often ineffective!

An important rule of urbexing is to respect the buildings and everything they entail. Do not destroy them! If you think otherwise and consider breaking a window or a door just to get inside, you can’t be called anything other than a vandal with nothing to do with urbex. If we want urbex not to be associated with society as a “bunch of hooligans” running around with crowbars, think twice before doing something stupid. Not to mention the legal consequences of such conduct, which may very often result in getting arrested or, at best, a fine.

How to Find Abandoned Places Near You

While it’s tempting to ask others for the locations of abandoned sites, many experienced urbexers are cautious about sharing this information to protect these places from vandalism. As a beginner, it’s important to learn how to find abandoned locations independently.

To start you off, here are 14 ways to find abandoned places near you:

1. Explore Your Local Area (Slowly)

My favourite way to find abandoned buildings near me is to get out and explore either on foot or on wheels. First, I scan Google Maps and pick an area where I’m likely to find old or historical buildings and then I set off for a few hours. Areas that are universally known to have old buildings include regions situated around rivers, train tracks, coastlines, industrial areas, and historical/old town areas.

2. Check Heritage Building Registers

Most governments have a section on their website where you can find a list of listed heritage buildings. Within this section, there’s usually an option to filter between disused buildings, historical landmarks, derelict sites etc.

For example:

Ireland – National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Australia – inHerit Portal of heritage places and listings in Western Australia.

Spain – Inventory of the Architectural Heritage of Catalonia

The UK – The National Heritage List for England

3. Browse Local News Articles

Abandoned World Photography in the Irish Independent, Nov 2023

Newspapers often feature articles on abandoned buildings, structures and landmarks that have been left to rot.

Some articles may delve into the historical significance of a particular abandoned structure, shedding light on its past and the events that unfolded within its walls. Others may focus on the architectural aspects, highlighting the unique features and design elements that make these buildings visually captivating.

4. Download Phone Map Apps

There are a few phone apps which help you find abandoned buildings near you. For example, the OsmAnd map app allows users to download detailed map for specific areas. Users can then filter and search for “Abandoned Object” which should bring up plenty of listings.

5. Talk to Local Residents

Engaging in conversations with local residents, especially those with a deep knowledge of the area, can be hugely helpful in your search for local abandoned buildings. People such as bar owners, shopkeepers and others who have been living or employed within the same area for a long time will often possess a wealth of knowledge about the history and development of the community, including its neglected or forgotten structures.

6. Find Urbex Groups on Facebook

There is no shortage of Facebook groups that represent urbex communities for niche areas around the world. Use the Facebook search bar to find groups relevant to your location and join the private ones. Once you’ve been accepted, you will find an abundance of urbex tips, itineraries, and insider information on the best hidden gems and abandoned spots near your.

7. Finding Abandoned Places Using Google Maps

It takes some practice to really nail this method but trust me, it works. As long as you know what to look for, Google Maps can point you in the exact direction of abandoned buildings in your vicinity. This blog explains the signs to look for when searching for abandoned places on Google Maps.

8. Engage with Local Historical Societies and Preservation Organisations

Local historical societies and preservation organisations are dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage of an area. These organizations often have extensive knowledge about abandoned buildings and may even conduct tours or have access to restricted areas for preservation purposes. By reaching out to them, you can gain insights into abandoned sites with historical significance and potentially uncover opportunities for guided urbex adventures.

9. Explore Online Mapping Platforms and Geocaching Websites

Aside from Google Maps, there are other online mapping platforms and geocaching websites that can assist in locating abandoned buildings. Websites like Atlas Obscura often feature user-submitted entries highlighting unusual and abandoned places of interest. These platforms can provide valuable leads and detailed descriptions of abandoned buildings, along with coordinates for navigation.

10. Attend Urbex Meetups and Workshops

Urbex meetups and workshops offer a unique opportunity to connect with fellow explorers and learn from experienced individuals in the field. These events may involve group explorations, discussions on urbex techniques, or presentations on notable abandoned sites. By participating in such gatherings, you can expand your urbex network, gain valuable insights, and potentially discover abandoned buildings that have been recently explored or documented by other attendees.

11. Keep an Eye Out for Demolition Notices and Development Plans

Local government websites, planning departments, or construction companies occasionally publish notices about upcoming demolitions or development plans for certain areas. Monitoring these sources can give you a heads-up on buildings that may soon become abandoned or available for exploration.

12. Network with Fellow Urbex Enthusiasts

Building a network of fellow urbex enthusiasts can significantly enhance your ability to find abandoned buildings. Engage with other explorers through social media, urbex forums, or local meetups. By sharing tips, experiences, and leads, you can tap into a collective knowledge base and gain access to abandoned locations that you might not have discovered on your own.

13. Attend Local Historical Tours and Events

Many cities and towns offer historical tours or events that focus on the architectural heritage and abandoned buildings within the area. These tours are often conducted by local historians, preservation organizations, or tourist agencies. Participating in these guided tours can provide firsthand knowledge about abandoned structures, their historical context, and potential urbex opportunities.

14. Attend Local Planning and Zoning Meetings

Local planning and zoning meetings provide insights into development plans and changes in your area. By attending these meetings or reviewing meeting minutes available online, you can learn about buildings or areas that are slated for demolition, redevelopment, or repurposing.

Eight Urbex Security Tips for Beginners

Urban exploration is anything but a leisurely stroll in the park. It comes with real risks that demand your full attention every time you venture into the world of abandoned places. While I don’t want to frighten anyone away from urbex, just know a single careless step could lead to dire consequences.

To ensure your safety, here are some valuable tips that will help minimize the risk of accidents during your explorations:

1. Don’t Go Alone

Try not to explore alone. If none of your friends are interested in urbex, look for buddies in online groups on Facebook, Reddit etc. For example, here are some urbex Reddit groups to try out:


2. Bring a Torch

A reliable light source is an urbex essential. Carry at least one working torch and a spare battery. Trust me, being inside an abandoned mental asylum in the pitch black is a scenario you want to avoid.

3. Wear the Right Clothes

Proper attire and protective gear are vital for safe urban explorations. Thick-soled shoes are your best friend, shielding you from sharp objects on the ground. Flexible trousers are equally important, helping you navigate obstacles like walls and debris. However, be cautious with gloves, as some countries may view them as tools for burglary. Finally, consider investing in an asbestos mask with absorbers for extra protection.

4. Bring Pepper Spray

To defend yourself against unfriendly people, I recommend bringing a small bottle of pepper spray. It’s small, compact non-lethal, and buys you time to escape. Avoid carrying weapons like knives, as they can lead to legal complications and physical harm.

5. Don’t Forget to Fuel Up!

Always make sure your car has enough fuel. You never know when you’ll come across another gas station, especially in remote areas. Plus, running out of petrol puts a sudden stop to a day of planned explorations. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

6. Bring a Charged Phone

A fully charged phone is a must. You may need to call for help or communicate with your fellow explorers. Consider carrying a portable charger to ensure you stay connected throughout your adventure.

7. Keep Lights to a Minimum

Minimising light is essential to avoid unwanted attention. Bright flashes of light can be seen from outside an abandoned building, potentially attracting unwelcome visitors and security guards. Keep your torches low and subtle as much as possible.

8. Always Assess for Risk

risk assessment

Minimising light is essential to avoid unwanted attention. Bright flashes of light can be seen from outside an abandoned building, potentially attracting unwelcome visitors and security guards. Keep your torches low and subtle as much as possible.

Nine Serious Urbex Hazards to Watch Out For

This section on urbex safety hazards is not intended to discourage or scare anyone from getting out and exploring. My goal is to draw attention to the serious threats resulting from pursuing the passion of urban exploration. Urbex is a dangerous but beautiful passion that should unite explorers, not divide them.

The first bit of advice is when exploring industrial plants, factories or former laboratories, there is a risk of exposure to dangerous chemical substances, various types of acids, and heavy metals. Never touch bottles or suspicious materials with your bare hands and remember that poisonous or irritating gases may accumulate in poorly ventilated spaces without you realising it. 

1. Toxic Moulds

Toxic Moulds Biohazard Yellow Sign

Certain moulds found in abandoned buildings, especially the black-coloured ones, can be detrimental to your health. These fungi can lead to infections in your sinuses, digestive system, lungs, and skin. Some moulds even produce toxic compounds called mycotoxins. Fortunately, you can protect yourself by using a simple paper mask and practicing good hygiene – washing your hands after urbexing and before eating.

2. Asbestos

asbestos warning sign orange

Exposure to asbestos in abandoned buildings dust can cause various respiratory diseases, including benign pleural lesions, asbestosis, lung cancer, and high-grade cancers such as pleural and peritoneal mesotheliomas. While asbestos becomes hazardous when its fibers are airborne, it’s advisable to wear a mask when entering areas where asbestos dust might be present. Standard paper dust masks won’t suffice, as asbestos fibers are small enough to bypass them. Opt for masks like the 3M 6200 series half mask, which offers proper protection.

3. Pigeon Droppings

A similar problem is pigeon droppings, which are abundant in abandoned places, especially in attics. The excrement of these birds contains many bacteria and viruses that can cause a number of different ailments. Of course, not every visit to an abandoned building will result in health problems, but it is worth being careful and watching out for it.

4. Dangerous Gases

Underground exploration in tunnels, storm drains and sewers poses a specific risk regarding dangerous gases. Hydrogen sulfide, methane, and carbon monoxide are the primary gases to be vigilant about.

Hydrogen sulfide has a rotten egg odour – if you smell it, leave the area immediately.

Methane can sometimes (but not always) appear as white clouds that float in the air. It is odourless and one of the first signs of its effects is dizziness. If you start feeling light-headed, leave immediately.

Carbon monoxide is the most dangerous gas to encounter. It doesn’t form clouds, and it’s colourless and odourless. Initially, it affects the body similarly to methane (dizziness) but it won’t be long until you’re horizontal and dying unless you GTFO.

5. Radiation

radiation hazard orange sign

Radiation is a paramount concern in urban exploration, and vigilant precautions are essential. While the risk of encountering harmful levels of radiation during urbex is relatively low, it is crucial to maintain a heightened awareness of this potential hazard. Always keep an eye out for warning signs, labeled radioactive materials, or any areas with a historical record of contamination. If you suspect radiation risks, maintaining a safe distance and employing protective gear, such as clothing that covers your body, a mask for particle filtration, and, if possible, a Geiger counter, can help mitigate these concerns. Post-exploration, thorough decontamination measures should be taken to ensure your safety and prevent any potential exposure to harmful radiation.

6. Risk of Drowning

drowning hazard sign

As in the case of gases, this threat mainly concerns underground explorers, and the most dangerous is visiting storm drains. Never explore during rainy conditions or when flooding is predicted. Watch for signs of impending flooding, such as sudden changes in temperature, colour (from light to brown/dirty) and water flow. Be alert to gusts of wind, as these may indicate rising water levels.

7. Electric Shocks

risk of electric shock sign

Even if a building’s power is believed to be off, exposed wires may still carry voltage. Avoid touching exposed power cables, and be mindful of any puddles or wires, even in basements. Sometimes, you may even sense the presence of electricity through a subtle humming sound. Pay attention to your surroundings!

8. People

It would seem that compared to previous threats, this is trivial. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. You never know who you will meet whilst out exploring. Half the trouble is if it’s a security guard or the police. You can always try to talk to them and explain your presence.

The worst is when you bump into drunk or high hostile people or local residents who accuse you of vandalism or theft. Always try to explain your presence and cooperate with security personnel or law enforcement if necessary. Avoid confrontations, and as a last resort, you can use pepper spray for self-defence.

9. Animals

Abandoned places can become homes for various wild animals such as rats, cats, dogs and foxes. Keep in mind that they might be carrying diseases like rabies so don’t go petting them.

Tips For Urbex at Night-Time

Abandoned buildings can often seem so peaceful during the day but that changes once the sun goes down. The colours fade away, shadows appear, animals start talking to each other and everything looks a lot more spooky in torchlight than in daylight, especially if you are in places like mental asylums, hospitals, and aged care facilities.

I highly recommend that urbex beginners start with a few daytime explorations to get a feel for abandoned places and things to watch out for. Practice scouting building perimeters and finding a way in as well as walking around the inside of an abandoned building and managing to stay quiet and light on your feet for the whole time.

If you’re a photographer, practice different types of shots with your camera and learn how to capture the beauty of abandoned buildings.

Only then, do I suggest urbexing at night and even then, you should practice nighttime exploring by going to a place you have been to already. That way, you are familiar with the layout, ground stability and other hazards and you can focus on getting used to limited visibility and all the scary stuff the darkness brings out.

Happy urbexing! 

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