The International Spy Museum

It’s hard not to be fascinated by the secret world of spies.  How to they carry out their missions?  What are they after?  And, living in the DC area, it’s easy to wonder “could I know any?”

The Spy Museum delves deep into these questions with demonstrations of secret codes, exhibits full of tools spies have used from the earliest days of espionage to the present, the portrayal of spies in movies, the methods used to identify spies among us, and even celebrity spies.

The International Spy MuseumA visit to the Spy Museum starts off by immersing you in the world of spying right away.  Take an elevator that glows with different colors up to a room where you choose your secret identity, learn the details of your new persona, and watch a movie about spying. 

Then, with your new name, it’s off to Spy School where you learn about gadgets and test your skills at identifying things that could give you away like surveillance cameras and people who may be listening.  There’s even an opportunity to crawl through an airshaft where kids (and adults) can listen to visitors but must stay quiet themselves.

Next, move onto the Secret History of History and learn about spy techniques used throughout the ages from The Trojan Horse to Ninjas to codes stamped on rolls of leather.  Learn about how leaders throughout history relied on intelligence gathering, double agents, and secret codes.  

This part of the museum consists of several rooms demonstrating how spies worked in different eras and conditions.  Then, explore Spies Among Us to discover lots of famous figures you didn’t know were spies as well as spies who seemed at first like ordinary people. There are lots of artifacts to see, including mundane objects like a real mailbox that was used for drops and more interesting items like cars used to smuggle people and lipstick guns. 

There are also several films throughout that give a lot of additional information about the real world of spying from those who were actually involved.  There is also an exhibit on spying in the 21st Century.  The Spy Museum also has rotating exhibits and a current favorite focuses on James Bond movies.

Beyond the museum itself there are options for other spy experiences, including Spy in the City which takes you out into the blocks surrounding the Spy Museum with a tablet for an interactive mission that is really fun or Operation Spy for kids 12 and up.

There are lots of interactive things to do in the Spy Museum from crawling through an air shaft to pretending to be James Bond holding onto a moving bar in the wind to computer challenges throughout.  Younger children might be bored at the museum but my eight year old loved it, so therefore we recommend the museum for ages 7 and up.

Be sure to ask for the interactive Family Guide that sends kids on a scavenger hunt throughout the museum to find (and break) various codes and look for different objects.  The guide really kept my kids interested and wanting to move through the museum.  We also tried Operation Spy, which was long, but a great add on to a visit or just to do on its own.

For anyone curious about spies really operate, a visit to the Spy Museum is well worth a visit!

The International Spy Museum   The International Spy Museum

If you go:

  • Admission is $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for children 7 to 11.  Children under 6 are free.  Combo tickets are available to pair with Spy in the City or Operation Spy.
  • The International Spy Museum offers other programming for the whole family.  You can see their current schedule online.
  • Strollers are not permitted in the museum but there is a room where you can leave your strollers.
  • The Museum is one block from the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro.  There are also several garages and limited street parking near the museum.

Photos by Jamie Davis Smith.

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