Washington, D.C. Sights

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International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum Review

It's believed that there are more spies in Washington than in any other city in the world, making it a fitting home for this museum, which displays the world's largest collection of spy artifacts. Museum advisers include top cryptologists; masters of disguise; and former CIA, FBI, and KGB operatives. Exhibits range from the coded letters of Revolutionary War überspy Benedict Arnold to the KGB's lipstick pistol, to high-tech 21st-century espionage toys, showcased with theatrical panache in a five-building complex (one, the Warder-Atlas Building, housed Washington's Communist party in the 1940s).

Highlights

The Secret History of History exhibit takes you through the espionage behind the headlines, from Moses's use of spies in Canaan to Abraham Lincoln's employment of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as a full-scale secret service in the Civil War, to the birth of Lenin's state-run espionage ring—later known as the KGB.

There's a heavy mix of flash and fun, with toys used by actual operatives as well as James Bond's Aston Martin and tales of celebrity spies like singer Josephine Baker, chef Julia Child, and actress Marlene Dietrich.

The story of Cold War espionage is displayed in a maze of mirrors, a flashy but apt visual metaphor for the deadly game of spying and counterspying that gripped the United States and Soviet Union. Weapons of Mass Disruption is right up to date on cyber attacks and the modern spy game of theft and destruction of intelligence.

Operation Spy, a one-hour "immersive experience," works like a live-action game, dropping you into the middle of a high-stakes foreign intelligence mission. Each step of the operation—which includes decrypting secret audio files, a car chase, and interrogating a suspect agent—is taken from actual intelligence operations.

Tips

Advance tickets (purchased at the museum or on its Web site) are highly recommended. All tickets are date and time specific. Tickets are most likely available (and your visit less crowded) on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday or daily after 2 pm. Allow about two hours for a visit.

This is a great museum for kids age 10 and up; younger ones might not get it. At the popular monthly KidSpy workshop for kids ages 10–14, participants can assume a cover identity and disguise, make a portable lie detector, crack a cipher, check out surveillance electronics, and more.

The museum regularly hosts films, events, and lectures by espionage experts. A GPS-guided walking tour, "Spy in the City," takes "agents" 12 years and older on a mission outside the museum walls.

    Contact Information

  • Address: 800 F St. NW, East End Washington, DC 20004 | Map It
  • Phone: 202/393–7798
  • Cost: Permanent exhibition only, adults $19.95; seniors $14.95; children 7–17 $13.95; ages 6 and under free; Operation Spy only, $14.95
  • Hours: Apr.–Sept., daily 9–8; Oct.–Mar., daily 10–6; hours subject to change; check Web site before visiting
  • Website:
  • Metro Gallery Pl./Chinatown.
  • Location: Downtown
Updated: 06-05-2013

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