10 Abandoned Buildings & Places Infiltrated by Urban Explorers

Urban exploration, also known as urbex, building infiltration and urban spelunking, is a movement that flies under the radar in a bid to investigate and photograph abandoned buildings and places, which often comprise the modern ruins of our recent industrial, military and civic past.  You can get to grips with the basic ideas in our brief introduction to urban exploration, while this article delves into ten of the most atmospheric, coveted, eerie and visually stunning types of abandoned place that urban explorers regularly infiltrate.

Hospitals, Asylums and Sanatoriums

(Images: howzey, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

Abandoned hospitals, asylums and sanatoriums are some of the most popular haunts of urban explorers due to their large scale, endless corridors and plethora of buildings.  But there’s a more sinister force that draws the daring from the relative safety of the world outside.  Officially places of treatment, asylums and sanatoriums in particular were characterised more by hopelessness and despair, with an eerie atmosphere that lingers long after the last patients left.  Above is the North Wales Hospital (Denbigh Asylum), complete with mortuary and autopsy table, which opened in 1848 and has been abandoned since 1995.

Amusement Parks

(Images: shibakouen hamutaro, reproduced with permission)

Abandoned amusement parks probably won’t enchant your kids, but they’re certain to thrill the average explorer out for some good old urban spelunking.  Whether or not you count urbex among your interests, there’s no denying that these twisted steel graveyards are mysterious places, where the silence is an eerie contrast to the sounds of fun and enjoyment that once echoed there.  The photographer told Urban Ghosts that this abandoned amusement park is in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, the area worst hit by the recent earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Factories and Power Stations

(Images: Ian Mansfield, cc-sa-3.0; Nachoman-au, cc-sa-3.0; Nate Robert, cc-3.0; Stefan Ray, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Few buildings represent the transition from the manufacturing to information age as effectively as factories.  With their hulking forms blighting the urban landscape, many factories are now little more than relics in the post-industrial world.  Similarly, the shift to renewable and alternative energy sources has rendered many older power stations obsolete, ripe for urban exploration as well as industrial archeology.  But thanks to creative conversion and reuse, not all abandoned factories and power stations are eyesores. 

Subways and Sewers

(Images: cincinnati-transit.net; Paul Lowry, cc-3.0; Ben Geach, cc-nc-sa-3.0; X-Ben, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

The dark world beneath our city streets is a place that many will never get to see. But for the discerning urban explorer who has turned their attention inwards – or downwards – the subterranean landscape is a maze of winding underground tunnels, abandoned subway stations and beautifully engineered Victorian sewers.  The Cincinnati Subway (top) was never even finished, a potentially invaluable civic resource that’s been abandoned for more than 80 years.  Some, like New York’s City Hall station and Brighton Sewer, offer tours, while the Kingsway Tram Subway was recently the focus of an urban art exhibition. 


(Images: Andy McMurray, cc-sa-3.0; JJ Harrison, cc-sa-3.0; England, cc-nc-sa-3.0; howzey, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

School’s out!  At least it is with the above examples, including an abandoned boarding school for girls in England photographed by howzey.  Like many of the other abandoned places featured in this article, schools were full of life while educating hundreds and thousands of students  over the years, which makes them all the more mysterious when they fall silent.  Dusty books, empty lockers and desks carved with the initials of their former occupants are all of historical interest to urban explorers. 


(Images: Justin Masterson, cc-nc-3.0)

The industrial boom of the Victorian era drove many rural folk to towns and cities where the streets were said to be “paved with gold”.  As city populations bulged to unsustainable proportions, many were forced to live in squalor.  Disease was everywhere and the poorest existed on a level of poverty in stark contrast to the economic success of the era.  Enter the workhouse, or poorhouse as it’s referred to in America.  In Victorian Britain, poverty was attributed to a lack of effort and workhouses offered the impoverished a roof over their heads but also put them to work, sometimes subjecting them to physical punishment.  With such despair and hopelessness, it’s no wonder abandoned workhouses maintain an eerie atmosphere that draws urbexers.

Missile Silos

(Images: Charlie Phillips, cc-3.0; Eric Jusino, cc-3.0)

Urban explorers love abandoned missile silos, and strangely there are quite a few of them around.  Most have been decommissioned, some even converted into subterranean living spaces.  Once fiercely guarded and strictly off limits to the general public, their very presence was often unknown, which makes them fascinating historical venues to engage in some urban spelunking.  Found in abundance across western United States and the former Soviet Union, above is a Titan nuclear missile silo in Colorado.  Places like this are extremely hazardous and shouldn’t be entered without permission.

Theatres and Cinemas

(Images: Matthew High, cc-nc-3.0; KB35, cc-3.0; howzey, cc-nc-nd-3.0; Matt Lambros, all rights reserved)

Other fascinating urban exploration sites include abandoned cinemas and theatres.  They are evocative modern ruins that, when photographed, offer an important snapshot of our economic and social history, when home televisions weren’t yet common and a trip to the cinema or theatre offered some relief from the often tough early 20th century conditions.  When TV and modern multiplexes rendered older cinemas redundant, even traditional American drive-ins,  such places took on an entirely different atmosphere in abandonment.

Military Bases

(Images: Gavin Clarke, cc-nc-sa-2.0; Andreas Mathiasson; Justin Masterson, cc-nc-3.0; Adam Lederer, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Like missile silos, abandoned military bases are popular urbex venues in part due to the fact that they were off limits for so long.  To the aviation enthusiast, the only compensation for the closure of one’s beloved local airbase is the opportunity to go in and take a look around after so many years sitting on the other side of the fence.  But abandoned military bases often tell a more sinister hsitorical story, and an overgrown guard tower and vandalised statue of Lenin are ominous signs at the front gate.  Occasionally, forgotten aircraft remain parked in remote corners of some military sites.

Churches and Chapels

(Images: Christopher Titzer, cc-nc-nd-3.0; mym, cc-sa-3.0; Evelyn Simak, cc-sa-3.0; Alison Killilea, cc-nc-nd-3.0

The words “faith no more” spring to mind at the sad sight of an abandoned church.  Once joyful places of worship, the sermons have ended and the echoes of the organ have long since evaporated.  Reflecting increasingly secular modern societies, abandoned chapels and churches stand as little more than empty shells, often vandalised or even arsoned.  But to urban explorers, abandoned buildings like these are historically significant and in some cases magnificent.  It’s not all bad news though, as some previously derelict churches have been creatively converted for modern use.

Next: A Brief Introduction to Urban Exploration

Keep reading – check out our feature Photographing Decay: The Strange Appeal and Educational Qualities of Abandoned Places, join our Rust Belt Road Trips (75 Urban Decay Pics) and explore these haunting abandoned buildings and places, and learn about urbex art.


Around the web

  • Thetimechamber

    A small site dedicated to UE in the UK


  • http://keiteisurbanadventures.blogspot.com/ Keitei28dl

    ~ Sweet!

  • disqus_mHQ57YzJY1

    That power station is in South Fremantle, Western Australia and I think has been herítage listed or similar.

  • http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com Tom

    That’s correct, the Fremantle power station is one of those shown! I didn’t know it had been earmarked as a heritage building. That’s great to hear.

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