If you are a newcomer to the world of urban exploration, the most difficult challenge of all will become apparent quickly.
If you’re new to urban exploration, the challenge of knowing how to find abandoned places to explore may feel a little intimidating. You might see some dilapidated structures around your city, but how can you tell if they’re truly unoccupied and safe to explore? You might be able to identify a few long-vacant, crumbling houses and take a look inside, but locating larger, more interesting and complex sites may feel out of reach.
The good news is that the more urbex experience you develop, the easier it becomes to find available properties to explore. Even as a newbie, you have access to the same key resources on which veteran explorers rely to plan their next outings: organized urbex groups, vehicular scouting trips and online tools like Google Maps. Below, you’ll learn how to expertly navigate Google Maps with an eye for finding ideal locations for urban exploration.
Looking for more urban exploration resources? Here are some recommended articles:
- Top 10 Tips for New Urban Explorers: How To Succeed In Urbex
- Take A Friend: 5 Great Reasons to Not Go Urbexing Alone
- Caught Trespassing? Staying Out Of Trouble Urbexing in 2020
- The 9 Most Important Rules and Urban Exploration Tips
Using Google Maps with Keyword Searches
Used in conjunction with keyword searches, Google Maps is an invaluable tool for urban explorers looking for sites. In fact, some of the most experienced members of the urbex community—including Dan Bell and YouTube sensation Exploring With Josh—frequently use Google Maps to identify locations for their next urbex videos. The two-step process outlined below will help you effectively use Google searches in combination with Google Maps to find great places to explore.
Step 1: Initial Keyword Search
Believe it or not, even the most basic Google searches can yield surprisingly useful information on how to find abandoned places. For example, searching “Abandoned buildings nearby,” “Abandoned buildings in [city name]” or “urban exploration [city name]” will round up videos, articles and blog posts that mention potential sites for you to research further.
While Google will typically default to showing you results relevant to your area, it may not always accurately identify your location, or it may not show specific enough results for you to work with. That’s when using operators to narrow your search parameters can be incredibly effective. Operators instruct your search engine to only bring you results that contain a specific keyword or phrase within quotation marks.
For example, if you live in Chicago, you’ll enter both “abandoned buildings” and “Chicago” in the search bar, separated by the plus sign (+). The plus sign is critical, as it tells Google that you only want to see results that include all of your search terms on a single page. If you want to find a specific type of structure, you can enter that as well, like “vacant factory” + “Chicago” or “abandoned hospital” + “Chicago.”
Using operators can save you hours of reviewing pages of mostly irrelevant results to find the occasional gem. Substituting the city where you plan to explore in the “city name” field, try these proven search strings (or any combination of these terms):
- “Abandoned warehouse” + “city name”
- “Vacant houses” + “city name”
- “City name” + “urbex”
- “City name” + “urban exploration”
- “Infrastructure” + “city name” + “urbex”
- “Vacant school” + “city name”
- “Abandoned building” and “city name”
- “Condemned building” and “city name”
You can also try using very specific terms that might net useful information. For example, searching for “building fire” plus the name of your city or “damaged building” and your city name might provide you with more information about interesting places that might be available to explore.
As you look through the results of your searches, note the general location—or specific address when possible—of any candidates for further consideration, as well as any other useful details about the site (type of structure, last known use, property owner, etc.) that may help you determine whether it’s truly abandoned and appropriate for urbex.
You may have to conduct additional searches to find an address; for example, if you’re thinking about exploring an abandoned lumber mill called Evergreen Wood Products and all you know about the location is the state where it was located, enter that information into Google and you’ll probably be able to find the address.
Step 2: Entering Search Results in Google Maps
Once you have a potential location or two in mind, you’ll click over to Google Maps. In most cases, you’ll see a two-dimensional overhead view of an area, so you’ll need to click on the “Satellite” thumbnail in the bottom left corner of the page. This will give you an aerial satellite view of your desired location, which will provide you with much more essential detail about the site under consideration.
Next, type in the street address of the location you’re considering and hit enter. Google will locate the site and show you the most recent aerial view of the building or structure. You can also zoom in on it and click “3D” to see different angles. Clicking on the yellow person icon in the bottom right corner will show you any available street-level images as well, which can provide you with helpful hints about whether the place is vacant and ripe for exploration.
How To Find Abandoned Places with Visual Searches with Google Maps
If you’ve conducted the keyword search above with no luck or simply wish to try a different approach on how to find abandoned places, you can always go straight to Google Maps and use key landmarks that tend to be closely associated with abandoned buildings or failed commercial districts.
For example, railroad tracks often run through parts of town whose heyday has passed, and you’re likely to find more than a few derelict buildings and vacant warehouses nearby. Be sure to use the satellite view, 3D and Street View tools to provide the most accurate picture of the area.
Large rivers are another feature that once fostered major commercial and industrial districts that have since fallen into vacancy and disrepair. You may also find ports, power plants and other infrastructure that are no longer being used and might be worth exploring.
While it may seem that large cities are the best places to find urbex sites, rural communities offer equally appealing opportunities, as their economies tend to be less resilient than highly-populated metropolitan areas. Don’t discount smaller towns and remote locations, especially if you know they’ve recently experienced a decline in population, mass layoffs or business closures. Rural farm communities may offer deteriorating barns or abandoned grain silos that are interesting sites to explore.
As you take a closer look at these locations, keep an eye out for obvious signs that a site is likely abandoned:
- Roofs with holes or collapsed sections
- Damaged walls
- Boarded-up doors and windows
- Overgrown grass, weeds and bushes
- Burned-out structures
- Fallen trees on the building
The below screenshot from 3D Google Maps checks just about all the above boxes for how to find abandoned places.
Follow Up with a Site Visit
Before you launch a full-scale expedition to explore a building you’ve found on Google Maps, you’ll need to do some in-person reconnaissance first. Never show up at a site for the first time expecting to go inside immediately—it dramatically increases the risk of you getting caught, injured or both.
Visit the site at roughly the same time of day that you want to explore it. Look for any signs of recent human activity on the property: parked cars or fresh tire tracks, neatly-mowed grass, a lockbox attached to the doorknob—all of which may indicate that the site isn’t as abandoned as it may have previously appeared. If you’re in a rural setting, scan the surrounding area for occupied homes in close proximity, as some families will build a new home on a large property and leave the old family home standing for nostalgia’s sake.
While you’re there, take note of details that will help you plan your eventual exploration session. Look for entry and exit points and try to get a sense of what gear you might need to bring with you. If you notice graffiti, drug paraphernalia, food wrappers or empty beverage containers strewn around the property, it’s quite possible you may encounter other people inside when you return to explore, since abandoned buildings tend to attract vagrants, addicts, vandals and other characters in addition to urban explorers. All the information you collect on your site visit should be used to create a detailed plan for your return trip, including contingency plans if you get caught or run into other people on-site.
Final Thoughts on How to Find Abandoned Places
Knowing how to find abandoned places to explore can be challenging, even for experienced urbex enthusiasts. Using Google Maps in tandem with specific Google operator searches can help you identify promising potential sites without wasting too much time chasing dead ends.
Along with online urbex forums and social media groups, Google Maps may just be your most valuable resource as you dive into the complex and fascinating world of urban exploration. But remember, knowing how to find abandoned places is only half the battle.