Urbex 101: What is Urban Exploration?

Posted by sickbritain On March - 10 - 2009

Urbex is the hobby (some might say sport) of exploring derelict buildings, underground bunkers, disused hospitals, subterranean tunnels, abandoned factories and other such forgotten structures or pieces of land.

What sort of things do you see?
Well, lots of dirt, grime, liquids, goo, oil, rotten wood, hornets nests, and other grim things but also some interesting things such as control panels, equipment, machines, pianos, graffiti, furniture and other artifacts left behind from the days when the building was in it’s prime.

Why would anyone do that?
I’m sure everyone’s reasons differ but the key is really in the ‘exploration’ part of the term, we want to explore the world around us and unlike most people we don’t see abandonment and decay as ‘dangerous’ or ‘disgusting’, we see it as ‘interesting’ and ‘challenging’. For some it’s about photography, for others it’s about the excitement of seeing somewhere that most normal people haven’t and being somewhere you’re not supposed to.

You may wonder what sort of people would do such a thing, well from the web and from personal experience I’ve encountered college students, photographers, professionals, generally all sorts of people and everyone I’ve met in person has been nice and friendly too.

Hold-on a minute, isn’t this illegal?
Not as far as I’m aware, I’m not a lawyer but from everything I’ve read and heard it’s not a criminal offence to be on someone else’s property but unless you have permission it could be considered as trespass. Now, trespass is a civil matter and if you’re caught on someone’s property without the appropriate permission you could be sued but in reality this is very unlikely as the benefits of doing so would be pretty limited.

This all sounds very nasty but in practice most urbexers are considerate people and are not planning to do anything wrong (at least not morally speaking). It would be easy for people to lump together people who take part in Urban Exploration with vandals and other such scumbags but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re not there to cause damage or spray graffiti (though evidence of both tend to be found on most sites), we’re there to explore, observe and sometimes document the location but never to cause any trouble.

If exploring on a site with security most urbexers will avoid detection or capture but if asked to leave then they will, peacefully and politely. Additionally most urbexers would also be cooperative with the police if the need arose, I have even heard of urbexers reporting suspicious events and evidence of criminal activity directly to the police.

OK then, but is it safe? Obviously we’re exploring abandoned buildings, sometime these are not long since abandoned or are still being maintained but in many cases they are not and have fell into ruin. Basically it’s up to the individual but as long as you take precautions you should be OK, I plan to write an article about safety specifically so please check this post on Urbex Safety.

So how do I get started / find out more?
Well for starters, bookmark this blog and come back from time to time as I get post more information. Over the next few weeks and months I plan to post a mixture of tips and tricks, site visits and general information about the community, if you’re eager then read my urbex safety tips and remember that Google is your friend.

NOTE: All photos published on this blog are available from Flickr via Creative Commons and are attributed to their rightful owners by virtue of a link back to their Flickr page. You should also be clear that I’m not condoning any unsafe, illegal or immoral activities and my advice is just that – advice. I offer no guarantees that my advice is even worth following and anyone that listens to a single word I have to say does so at their own risk – in short, I’ve spent many decades of my life avoiding responsibility so I’m not about to take any now!

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29 Responses to “Urbex 101: What is Urban Exploration?”

  1. Graybags says:

    Lovely idea for a blog m8 and gorgeous bloody HDR !!, I’ll ignore the typo’s as I get accused of being from the grammar / spelling Police ..But it’s instead of its ? unforgiveable LOL Keep up the good work…Graybags

  2. sickbritain says:

    Sorry! That’s one of my few consistent grammatical errors, will fix later!

  3. Steve C says:

    This is great. I really want to photograph these sort of buildings, with some funky models/hair/make-up.
    Interested in any collaborations so we can share the costs.

  4. Eleanor says:

    This is my first visit to your site and I am very excited about what you are doing! I am feeling quite emotional having read the blog as it is so good to know that there are like-minded people out there. I thought my interest in abandonded and derelict buildings was just another symtom of my ‘nuttiness’ (maybe so, but that’s OK!).

    I have always been interested in such things, but the real PASSION began when I first gained access to and began to explore the abandoned Victorian buildings at West Middlesex Hospital. I managed about 5 visits, all unaccompanied (slightly freaky but added something to the experience)and FELL IN LOVE WITH THE PLACE! The whole site has now sadly been demolished. I AM GENUINELY UPSET AND I HAVE PLACED A ‘CURSE’ ON THE FLATS THAT ARE NOW RISING OBNOXIOUSLY IN ITS PLACE! Thank you, sickbritain, I’ll be visiting you again! X

  5. Eleanor says:

    Ok so I’m replying to myself… Thought my email wouldn’t be published but it seems clear for all to see. Not especially bothered but it does say ‘will not be published’ (requierd). Lucky I’m not gonna place too much info. You’ve seen my last comment. Near to said locaiotn is somewhere else I’m looking at and have made access to much easier…However, judging by clothes, shoes, duvet etc arranged there, it’s all too obvious this is someone’s shelter (there’s a shelered area with old gravestones round the walls)who is blatantly homeless, so I’m respecting that and will leave it for now. Has potential I think! X

  6. Sick Britain says:


    You’re email address isn’t published publicly, that’ll just be a cookie at your end to make things easier to see. The only people that can see your email address are the webmaster (tfs) and myself.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. Eleanor says:

    Ok cool- cheers for that! Sorry- not v computer literate yet, d’oh! X

  8. ShawnS says:

    I love this stuff and so badly want to go explore around my hometown of Cincinnati, OH but I always seem to be just a bit too law-abiding to ever cross a fence or climb a wall. Plus, I’m a splinter magnet even in well maintained, clean spaces. I can’t even imagine. :)

  9. Eleanor says:

    To ShawnS- Dude, I know exactly how you feel and your comment made me laugh- not at you but with you! Nice one mate (I’m from the UK!) for being so honest! I too am a ‘splinter magnet’ and was always reluctant to climb trees; was the last one to jump off (sometimes be helped off in the end) the shed roof after all my mates, etc., etc! BUT…


    Get to know the place properly from the outside first. You will only bother to do this if it draws you to it, as I understand some places near you have! Good luck- Eleanor

  10. sam shepherd says:

    can you access underground network with bumbkeys from underground stations and abandoned platforms?

    There is access point near st pauls cathedral anyone try.

    Please read my storie at shepherdstudios.info

  11. sam shepherd says:

    there are many empty buildings in london waiting for demolish but you can access except they also have security – I am too lazy to get caught here! need to buy keys ….

  12. sam shepherd says:

    antone want to meet in lonond to do som urbanexploration?

  13. CRM114 says:

    ”What sort of things do you see?
    Well, lots of dirt, grime, liquids, goo, oil….”

    Sounds like an average night on the piss up north.

  14. Sam Shepherd? I am interested in finding some London sites. I have a couple of ideas but they are either shut up quite tight or too easy to get into, thus allowing too easy access to tramps and looters to have much of interest left inside. Ping me back if you want to collaborate. I’m in SE4

  15. Craig says:

    Love the blog! I’m really keen to get tinto this but struggle to encourage any of my mates who are more into maintaining their nails than derelict buildings! I was a bit weary of the law side as my job requires regular CRB checks so wouldnt want a breaking and entering charge on my record, I do live over in Wallsend in Newcastle Upon Tyne though which has a good few sites I’d love to explore! Wallsend Theatre, Swanhunter’s Shipyard, whats left of it seen tons of pics in forums! any like minded locals please get in touch or even travellers! I’m a friendly guy and any exploration in wallsend would follow a warm cupper and bikkie in my little nest of rubbish just a stones throw away from the above sites! :o )

  16. fantom says:

    yo yo yo love the blog espchial bit about the very nice people part its angin the wa some people think of what we do as a crime. tbh i have contacted you in hope of info on what leeds could you kindly provide me with for more infomation bout places to explore in manchester it would be very much appriciated as i have tried and failed yes loser me but you seem to be clued up please send assistance weather it jus info on where to get info please i need to explore

  17. Ellie says:

    Hey im studying documentary photography at newport university and im interested in doing a project on urbex was wondering if anyone could help me to find people in newport, cardiff and bristol that wouldn’t mind having a tag along lol


  18. sickbritain says:

    Ellie – I don’t really know many people in South Wales and I don’t know of any South West Urbex sites, have you tried 28 Days Later or Derelict Places?

  19. martin says:

    Tresspass is not a criminal offence and british law does not allow you to be prosecuted for it.This doesnt mean the police wont try and charge you with the vagrancy act, which basically means you are on private property with intentions of doing something illegal ,It all depends on what you may say in interview but my advice is dont say anything without consulting your solicitor, as the charge is difficult to prove and unless your tooled up to the max with intentions to do something it wont make court and my advice for any of you with intentions is dont get caught……

  20. scooterwitch says:

    hi all am also new to urban ex only done 4 all of which were great fun but am also aware of some people who like to do it for the publicity side of it which is totaly wrong ,in my opinion,and there sre other who do remove stuff from sites also very wrong . this could lead to a criminal charge of entering with intent to steal as opose to just tresspass as im inscotland then we dont have tresspass law (thank god ) but themain point is jus tto enjoy n be safe would always recommend going with sumone just incase. the nature of sum of the sites r pretty hazzardous n if u get hurt then it good to have back up

  21. scooterwitch says:

    ellie good luk with ur course but most explorers prob wont take anyone they dont no with them just for the safety aspect n also inexperenced ppl can put the risk of getting caught up 100% google urb ex groups in ur area or try flickr n c if u get anywhere on ther ther r sum other groups that r into more artistic stuff try decayed but still beutifull n good luk xx

  22. clare b says:

    i cannot understand why councils/goverment etc dont give you full access to these places so you can photograph and document them,so that future generations will no how lovely buildings used to be.i love all you photos and reading the history that goes with them.

  23. John Godwin says:

    Great stuff, my own work can be viewed at http://www.john-godwin.co.uk/urbex

    I really hope this artform takes off soon, it’s got unlimited scope and is a breath of fresh air for photographers. I’m addicted.

  24. hairy calf says:

    i am keen to contact other UE as I’ve been interested in the subject for years; anyone who lives in the Black Country and has a similiar interest to me, i would love to hear from them. I’m also keen to follow any forums and blogs and email like-minded people with a passion for abandoned and derelict places. Thanx hairy calf

  25. simon wilde says:

    really interesting photographs,and places.I have been into Urban Exploration for some years now,and have visited sites in a few countries.Nice to see that there are other people out there with my interests, Before I found this site, and others like it I was begining to think I was a bit strange.Keep up the good work !!!

  26. Missi says:

    Great article! I’ve been interested in abandoned buildings for a very long time!
    I have since started to do my dissertation on The Poor Laws of Lunacy, and am extremely desperate to get to some asylums. Is there anywhere i can get a list of buildings that are still standing as i know a lot are being demolished recently, and also whether or not anyone from around the London area would be interested in going to some asylums. Showing a newbie around. x

  27. allan says:

    they arent bad these sites
    just a word of warning though if you have any photos of old buildings on any site on the web they will use them on uk urban explorers and there is nothing you can do about this and its no use arguing with them because the end result is they will ban you from the site permenately this happened to someone i know because he argued with them about using his photos but because its a link you cant do anything about it

  28. sickbritain says:


    Thanks for reading and feedback is always welcome. Like you I think that people should be fair with their use of other people’s work which is why all of the photos you’ll find on Sick Britain are licensed under Creative Commons so anyone is welcome to re-use and re-publish them as long as they give due credit and do not use the images to make money.

    Cheers, SB.

  29. Jason says:

    First comment, Graybags years ago wrote:
    “Graybags says:
    03/04/2009 at 08:53
    Lovely idea for a blog m8 and gorgeous bloody HDR !!, I’ll ignore the typo’s as I get accused of being from the grammar / spelling Police ..But it’s instead of its ? unforgiveable LOL Keep up the good work…Graybags”

    Jason says: um… “typo’s” ? Unforgiv(e)able LOL.

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About Me

If youre into Urbex or youre trying to find out what its all about you may find yourself needing some help finding out about the art of Urban Exploration.  Here at Sick Britain Im planning to put up original content like my What is Urbex? and Urbex Safety articles as well as posting links to other community sites such as 28 Days Later or Derelicte.



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