What is Urbex?

Urban explorers often take photos of the locations they encounter.
Urban explorers often take photos of the locations they encounter.

What is Urbex?

"Urbex" is short for "urban exploration". It can refer to the exploration of both active or abandoned man-made structures, generally those seldom seen by the average urban population. It is a hobby that carries considerable risk of physical harm, arrest or assault as it often involves trespassing into restricted areas. Photography, historical interest, and documentation are major motivations behind the hobby.

Commonly Explored Sites

Abandoned ruins are big draws for urban explorers, a category which can include amusement parks, factories, houses, fallout shelters, sanatoriums, asylums, schools, and power plants. The practice is commonly practiced in Japan because of the presence of many abandoned buildings (known in Japanese as "haikyo"). Many exploreres are interested in documenting them through photographs or documentaries. Exploring active buildings is also part of Urbex, which can be risky venture because it involves reaching restricted areas. The areas of the building which are of interest include rooftops, elevator rooms, mechanical rooms, and abandoned floors. Catacombs are man-made underground passageways used for religious practices and also chambers used as burial places. Catacombs are found in Paris, Rome, Odessa, and Naples and there is even a specific name for urban explorers who focus on them: cataphiles.

The exploration of sewers and storm drains is a dangerous practice that may lead to physical harm or even death. Sewers may contain harmful gasses such as methane, meaning explorers must use gas masks. Storm drains pose a risk due to flash floods which may occur with unprecedented heavy rainfall. In Australia, there is a new group who explores sewers and storm drains which are called cave clan.

Transit tunnel exploration involves investigation of active or abandoned subway systems. In most countries, the practice is restricted, and it amounts to trespassing which can be prosecuted. Utility tunnels are commonly found in a large institutions such as universities and hospitals which use steam to heat the buildings. Utility tunnels contain steam pipes which supply the buildings with steam. Exploration of utility tunnels is risky because of high temperatures, breathing dangers, poor lighting, and sometimes accidental burst of steam pipes.

Popularity of Urbex

The recent increased media attention has led to increased popularity of urban exploration and has been featured in several TV shows (Urban Explorers on Discovery Channel), films (horror movies), and documentaries. Because of the increased popularity there is an increasing focus on urban exploration which has raised concerns among property owners. Some people who purport to be urban explorers take this opportunity to steal some properties, although this is strictly against the unwritten rules of urban exploration.


Most of the places accessed during urban exploration are restricted which means that explorers are trespassing and could be prosecuted.


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