Originally opened in the Penn Quarter section of Washington DC in 2002, the International Spy Museum expanded and moved to its current location between the National Mall and the Wharf and reopened in 2019. The museum is home to the largest collection of spy related artifacts open to the public. The 8 floor museum includes two floors of exhibits; a theater for screenings, films, and presentations; a Learning Center for workshops, classes, and professional development for teachers; and a lobby and museum store.
Traveling with Kids:
The museum is open 363 days a year (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day) and has longer hours than most museums in Washington DC. Check here for more information.
Due to it’s popularity, tickets are often timed. Plan ahead and order tickets online here and save money and (sometimes) long lines at the admission desk. Kids six and under are free. In my opinion, this museum is best suited for kids 8 and over; teenagers will especially enjoy the museum and missions.
Visitors can leave and return same day- be sure to have your hand stamped.
There is very limited, metered street parking. A better bet is the L’Enfant Plaza Garage. The closest Metro is the L’Enfant Plaza on the blue/green/yellow/orange lines. There is also a free shuttle that runs between the Wharf, L’Enfant Plaza, and the National Mall every ten minutes. More information here.
Restrooms are located on the main floor and 4th and 5th floor exhibits
The entire museum is handicap accessible and I recommend a stroller for younger children.
A large gift shop of everything “spy related” is located on the first floor.
It takes time to both fully explore the galleries and participate in the undercover missions. There are about a dozen chances to complete to your mission by completing assignments on interactive touch screens. Lines form quickly for these touch screens, so if you see an open screen, grab it! Plan on at least 3-4 hours to complete a mission, and even more to fully explore each exhibit.
20 Things all Good Spies Must Do at the Spy Museum
1. Begin on the 5th floor in the Briefing Center and watch a Morgan Freeman narrated introductory video. Receive a lanyard with ID badge and access code. Register for an undercover mission and learn your Code Name (remember it because you’ll need it throughout the museum!)
2. Make an electronic disguise using clothing, hair, and eyewear for your missions and create a gadget in the gadget lab. Read about real life gadgets used in historical spy missions.
3. Place your handprint on a sensor to test if you and a fellow spy are trustworthy.
4. Unlock videos to learn about eavesdropping and some of the benefits of eavesdropping for a spy.
5. Check out the six foot section of the real Berlin Tunnel that was excavated in 1956 and the “Sleeping Beauty” WWII motorized submersible canoe.
6. Determine whether something someone has posted on social media poses a viable threat to your mission.
7. Figure out how to use various types of decoders such as spinners, scytales, and masked messages. Learn about the differences between codes and ciphers
8. Test your memory with a variety of mind games.
9. See how long you can hang from a bar.
10. Make choices in the Decision Room about the search for Osama Bin Laden.
11. Learn about Canadian Capers and propaganda utilized in newspapers.
12. Do an Intel Review check at the end of the 5th floor before proceeding to the 4th floor exhibits.
13. Watch another introductory video at the start of Floor 4 to explain some of the reasons WHY people spy and how these reasons have changed over the centuries beginning with George Washington!
14. Deactivate the atomic bomb before the time runs out and then see memorabilia of film spies like James Bond and Jason Bourne in the “License to Thrill” exhibit.
15. Read the profiles of traitors and foreign agents to pick up new skills.
16. Read the headlines of Great Escapes stories of some of the 5,000 men and women who crossed over, under, and through the Berlin Wall during it’s 28 years.
17. Get permission to cross the border between East and West Berlin.
18. Perfect a lying technique like stalling and facial clues to break a suspect in an interrogation.
19. See your complete mission history before leaving. Visitors are allowed to keep their lanyard with undercover mission codes. Go home and print out your entire adventure.
20. Shop in the museum store before leaving to purchase any necessary spy gear for future missions.
Eating Locally: Next door to the museum is the L’Enfant Plaza which has offices, shops, a hotel, and a large food court and seating areas with dozens of options. Check here for the full list. A quick block away is the District Wharf and Falafel Inc., which offers quick service and reasonably priced, delicious falafel. There are also other restaurants located on the wharf like the Fish Market- check here for the full list.
Disclosure: My family was provided a media pass to visit the museum. All opinions expressed are my own.