What is Urbex or Urban Exploration?

What is Urbex or Urban Exploration?

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Urbex, Urban Exploration or sometimes UE is the act of exploring man-made structures, from buildings to monuments or mysterious abandoned locations and usually documenting the experience for viewers to be part of the ride as well. It’s an activity for people who love adrenaline, as it can also be quite dangerous.

The activity poses a lot of risks, as urban exploration is prohibited and explorers can get arrested or even punished, especially if they „hack” monuments or buildings with important historical or national significance, if they violate the trespassing and privacy laws of a particular country or if they perform breaking and entering or damage property integrity in any way.

What qualifies as Urban Exploration?

Urbex is not just limited to cities, as the name might lead you to believe, but it generally includes any man-made structure. Since the definition of this activity is so broad, there are various urban explorers out there with different styles of exploring and documenting, as well as diverse motivations relating to why they do it, from adrenaline to conquering personal boundaries or even achieving international fame.

Some adrenaline-loving urban explorers choose to venture into mysterious abandoned places with scary backgrounds, such as sanatoriums, insane asylums, haunted locations or derelict hospitals and document their experience using either video or photo, while others treat those locations with pure artistic admiration, choosing to film documentary-style footage.

Others choose to conquer active buildings, infiltrating or even entering restricted areas. Such examples are rooftopping, extreme parkour or free running on high building tops. Some explorers have even documented their experience fleeing security staff and risking their life for the perfect photo or video. Urban explorers range from people who practice parkour to athletes or abandoned places enthusiasts.

Between art and illegality

Urban exploration has increased in popularity over the past years and some urban explorers have even built steady fan communities or achieved international fame. Some such examples are Oleg Cricket, Mustang Wanted, James Kingston, On The Roofs, Exploring With Josh or Dan Bell who have shared their experiences via Youtube or their personal websites.

A documentary by Redbull called Urbex contains an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon, as well as the motivation for practicing this activity, despite the major risks posed, from arrests and incarceration to asbestos or radiation poisoning, crumbling, unsafe surfaces that can cause injury or even death by slipping or falling (last one applies especially to daredevils who choose to conquer the highest skyscrapers, cranes or other buildings in places like Dubai or China). Most reasons invoked by urban explorers for continuing this activity have to do with personal fulfillment, gaining fame, conquering limits and giving the viewers something memorable to remember each and every time.

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Urbex rules and principles

Some urban explorers follow certain rules, such as never exploring alone, conducting proper research about a location before venturing or not damaging property in any way (breaking doors, vandalizing, affecting building integrity). A popular motto among urbex lovers is „take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.” Safety is also paramount given the risky, unknown aspects of the activity, which is why some urbex practitioners carry face masks, gloves or other protective equipment.

Others, on the other hand, perform very dangerous activities such as stunts, parkour or urban climbing with little to no safety equipment and only their recording devices (Go-Pro cameras or other devices). Famous daredevils have pushed the envelope and gained international fame, as well as controversy for performing the craziest, most deadliest stunts or conquering the highest buildings. Most notable names are Mustang Wanted, On The Roofs and Oleg Cricket.

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Is it worth it?

Despite its risks, many urban explorers, from professionals to amateurs alike describe the activity as unlike any other and thrive on the attractiveness of the unknown, feed on the mystery or even the adrenaline-packed climbs. Others have purely artistic and historical motivations, wanting to document interesting, abandoned places, as well as the impact of time and environmental changes on various man-made structures.


If you’re looking to venture into urban exploration yourself, make sure you stay safe, don’t go alone, ask for permission if possible before exploring certain locations and maybe bring someone more experienced along for the ride the first time around. If you’re already a veteran, watch out for security and don’t get yourself killed.

What are your thoughts on urban exploration? Have you tried it yet or you’d never be caught dead (no pun intended) doing it? Share your thoughts down below!

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