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How To Be An Urban Explorer

Girl exploring the city streets

For many years people have been exploring unique and exotic places all across the globe. But as more people reside in cities today than ever before, and our identities are shaped by our environment, more and more people are starting to look for adventure in their own backyards. This has opened the door to a different breed of travellers, people who, instead of venturing abroad in search of adventure, turn to their own city in search of different cultures and new landscapes. The particular charm of the city is its ability to re-invent itself. So it is no surprise that the urban landscape is fast turning into a playground of sorts. Let’s look at some of the exciting activities available to urban explorers.

Street Art

Street culture is a rich source of creativity and allows the imagination to run free. As a result new urban movements are constantly forming. Graffiti is, of course, a classic example of street culture, and these days street art is being seen less as vandalism and becoming more light-hearted. Famous street artist Banksy refers to buildings as the “cave walls” of modern times, and feels we should be able to express ourselves by using our landscape as a canvas. Of course we are not suggesting you take to the street with a can of spray paint, but as an urban explorer you can go in search of beautiful and meaningful art without ever putting foot in an art gallery.

Adorable graffiti monsterPlayful graffiti

When you go exploring you may stumble across unusual sculptures or even some technologically advanced street art like “throwies”. The concept of these clusters of LED lights stuck to a battery and a rare-earth magnet went viral on the internet after being introduced by The Graffiti Research Lab. These small devices that can be thrown against the sides of buildings where they can cling and will glow for several hours. Or why not try some playful guerrilla crocheting? A practice where people crochet colourful yarn around objects like trees, abandoned bicycles and street signs.

Yarn bombing bikeA bicycle that has fallen victim to guerrilla crocheting or yarn bombing

The Urban Playground

An activity that has become quite popular in the urban environment is the flash mob - a crowd of people who unexpectedly gather in some public space, to do something atypical for a short period of time, and then quickly disband. While flash mobs seemed quite pointless at first it is now seen as a playful method to make social comment. Cities are filled with unusual activities, you just have to find them. Many cities have a yearly pillow fight in a city square and others have a zombie walk each year - usually done in the name of charity. If you don’t want to take part in any of these, maybe you can start another unusual activity in your city.

People with paper bags over their heads for flash mobRecent flash mob in the Ukraine


Truly interact with the urban landscape by taking your workout to the streets and alleyways of the city. Parkour, coined from the French word for “route”, is a relatively recent phenomenon in urban culture. The aim of this extreme sport is to use leaps, jumps and rolls to avoid or overcome any obstacle that you may come across. The usual “obstacles” are walls, stairwells, balconies, fences, railings and, of course, the gaps between roofs. David Belle started this sport in the 1990s on the rooftops of the French suburb where he grew up. He was trying to emulate his father who was an acrobat and a fireman. If this sort of physical interaction with the urban environment appeals to you then join your city’s Parkour club, and in the meantime you can start learning to vault over small fences at your local park.

Girl jumping over a railingGirl doing parkour in the city

Abandoned Places

While the urban landscape is all about progress and modernisation, you will always find districts that have fallen victim to urban decay in cities. Modern popular cultures have affectionately adopted these areas and they have become romanticised, since we constantly see them in films and in books. Urban explorers want to explore these spaces themselves to see and understand the things that humans abandon and leave behind. All cities have fascinating old houses, buildings, warehouses and even amusement parks, churches and hospitals that sit abandoned just waiting to be inspected. There are loads of places to see and take photos of. Remember if you do go exploring to make sure buildings have not been shut down because they are dangerous or too ramshackled. Also make sure you are allowed on the premises and never go to abandoned places on your own or at night.

Abandoned hospital in Beelitz near BerlinAn old hospital in Beelitz near Berlin, abandoned since 1994


If simply finding street art or exploring abandoned spaces isn't enough for you, then don’t fret. Ingress, a new game by Google, will certainly satisfy your need for turning the urban landscape into a playground. Ingress is an app that will turn exploring your city into a massive scavenger hunt. It transforms the real world into a landscape of portholes and intrigue. The backstory is that a strange energy has been unearthed by scientists, and some believe it to be influencing the way people think. We must learn to control it, and in order to do this you can pick up certain virtual objects and clues, and visit portals, that you will find all across the world. To play all you need to do is open the virtual map on your Android phone or tablet. Portals are highly concentrated in cities, and can manifest in creative objects such as statues, monuments, unusual architecture and street art. The beauty of playing Ingress is not that it is simply a fun distraction, but since you need to be in close proximity to these virtual porthole to access them, it will take you all around your city - and other cities - to interesting places that you haven’t thought of going to before.

Colourful rhino statuesWhen playing Ingress statues and other unusual sculptures can become portholes
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