Secret Agents for a Day: A Visit to the International Spy Museum

Secret Agents for a Day: A Visit to the International Spy Museum

Update: This visit is from 2013 but the Spy Museum has a new home in L’Enfant Plaza near The Wharf. 

Mission Complete! The International Spy Museum has been on our Washington, DC bucket list for a while now and we are pleased to say it did not disappoint.

The Spy Museum truly takes you on an adventure from start to finish. When we first arrived, we were sent to a special room to get the details of our secret identities for our “mission” through the museum. There are many identities to choose from, so everyone in your group can pick a different alias. Memorize the details carefully – you never know when you will be questioned! After choosing a secret identity, we watched a short video that explained the thrills of life as a spy but also warned us that it can be a dangerous job where nothing is as it seems.  Armed with our secret identity, we were ready to go!

The museum has everything from stories about real spies  to favorite fictional spies from movies. Right now, the museum is celebrating 50 Years of Bond. We loved learning about how James Bond and other spy movies often inspired the development of the spy gear used today. It seems like many of our favorite spy movies were ahead of their time!  The museum is filled with great interactive displays where you can practice spotting suspicious activity and keeping your secret identity hidden. You can even have your own “Bond Moment” – hang on to the top of a bridge for 60 seconds to catch the villain in Hang Time or disarm a missile before time runs out at Operation Atomic Countdown. Can you save the world like 007?

In addition to modern day espionage, we were also shown how spying has changed the outcome of wars and the foundation of the United States. We learned about historical spymasters like Moses, the Greeks, Ninjas, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth I, and even George Washington. They all relied on intelligence and trickery to be effective leaders. One of our favorite interactive displays was an audio display that explained different codes used during WWII. From morse-code like tapping of prisoners of war to the famous Navajo Code Talkers, we learned that some codes hide in plain sight. After listening to the description of each one, we got to practice decoding a secret message using what we learned.

We suggest visiting the museum during non-peak times to take advantage of all the activities. The interactive displays really set this museum apart from the rest! We visited the museum on a Sunday in the late afternoon and found very reasonable crowds.  During peak season, there are often lines to enter but we did not have to wait in line at all. The museum offers extended hours during some holiday weekends so be sure to check the website before you go.

Beyond the walls of the building, the museum also offers a city tour experience called Spy in the City for $14.95. The museum provides a GPS interactive  device that will guide you through a secret mission and show the city’s rich history and landmarks. This is a walking tour so dress for the weather! You can purchase a mission for each member of your group or work as a team with up to four agents.  There are two missions to choose from lasting 1 hour or 1.5 hours. We did not experience this for ourselves but we think it sounds like a great idea for families or groups that want to see the city in a unique way.  Spy in the City Tours can be paired with museum admission for a discount. You can find all the ticket information on the website.

The Spy Museum is located on F Street near a variety of restaurants including one of our favorites Shake Shack. Average museum visits last about 2 hours but you can easily spend an afternoon in this area of the city if you plan to dine out or add the Spy in the City Mission. You can follow the Spy Museum on Twitter (@IntlSpyMuseum) for exhibit updates, spy news and history, and special deals.

At a Glance

  • Spies of all ages
  • $24.95 for adults, $16.95 (age 7-12), free 6 and under
    Membership available
  • 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW
    Washington DC 20024
  • L’Enfant (yellow, green, blue, orange, silver)

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