The International Spy Museum is a tribute to spies, spy technology, and secrets. Opened in 2002 in a town full of high-quality, free museums and monuments, the Spy Museum’s engaging, fun exhibits have allowed the for-profit museum to succeed while charging $22 for admission. If you’re at all interested in this kind of thing, it’s time (and money) well spent.
Permanent Exhibits at the International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum has permanent exhibits covering six areas: Starting in Covers and Legends, you get an alternate identity (complete with documentation) and an introduction to spying as a career. Next comes School for Spies, where you get to see all of the cool gadgets, tools, and tech that spies use to gather secrets, evade detection, and stay one step ahead of their targets. In The Secret History of History, you’ll learn the stories of spies throughout history, how they worked, and whom they helped. From Ballroom to Battlefield covers how spies and espionage worked during the US Civil War.
One of our favorite exhibits is Spies Among Us, which features codes and code-breaking stories from World War II. If you want to sleep at night (instead of hoarding generators and batteries), skip The 21st Century exhibition, which shows how modern life would be disrupted if a cyberattack were launched against the US electricity grid.
Operation Spy: An Interactive Spy Game for Ages 12 and Up
Besides the permanent exhibits, the International Spy Museum has a rotating set of special exhibits. The most recent is Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, featuring the villains from the James Bond movie franchise, their weapons of destruction, plans, and movie props. The best part of the exhibit is when real-life spies tell stories of how their missions sometimes got as exciting as a Bond movie. The International Spy Museum also hosts a one-hour, interactive spy game called Operation Spy (ages 12 and up). Your team’s assignment is to track down a bomb device and the person who stole it, in a foreign town called Khandar. You’ll need to make contact with a local agent (without drawing attention), break out of a room, decrypt a secret transmission, and more. It’s fast paced but fairly straightforward. If you’ve got the time, it’s fun. Operation Spy costs $15 without museum admission, or $29 including museum admission. Buy tickets in advance on the website, and arrive 20 minutes early for orientation.
Touring Tips: The gift shop’s most popular item is a black T-shirt that reads, “Deny everything.” (We each bought one to wear around the office.)
The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For more information and to learn about temporary exhibits, call 202-393- 7798 or visit their website.
The International Spy Museum is only one of many museums described in The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. by Eve Zibart, Renee Sklarew, and Len Testa.
Entrance to International Spy Museum: By Another Believer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
James Bond car: By Shaun Versey (Bond’s Aston Martin DB5) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons