The International Spy Museum in Washington, DC wants to know if you have what it takes to become a Spy. Located at the L’enfant plaza, close to the Mall, the museum transports you into the complex world of spying. If you are a geek like me who loves TV shows and Movies involving the CIA, MI5, government, or espionage, a history buff. Or if you just love gadgets and tech then you should definitely check out this museum if you are in DC.
About The International Spy Museum In Washington DC
The International Spy Museum is a non-profit that is focused on educating people about espionage and intelligence. All of its exhibits aim to teach the public about the important role that intelligence has played throughout history.
Rather than just focusing on the United States, this museum explores the successes, failures, controversies, and challenges of intelligence agencies and famous spies globally. Through interactive exhibits, you will leave this immersive museum with a pretty thorough understanding of everything spy-related.
How To Visit The International Spy Museum In Washington DC
The International Spy Museum is on the L’Enfant Plaza behind the National Mall. It is about 5 minute’s walk from the Smithsonian Castle so it’s very close to all the Museums and other attractions.
International Spy Museum Hours
The museum is open every day. It’s open from 9 am to 7 pm every day except on Saturdays when it’s open until 8 pm.
Spy Museum Admission:
Adult (13-64) – $26.95
Youth (7-12) – $16.95
Child (6 and under) – FREE (ticket required)
Senior / Military / Law Enforcement /
Intelligence Community / College Student (with valid ID) – $23.95
Spy Museum Address: 700 L’Enfant Plaza,SW Washington DC20024 Tel: 202.393.7798
How To Get To The Spy Museum
The Spy Museum is close to The Mall and The Castle so there are a variety of ways to get there.
It’s very to a lot of the most popular destinations in Washington D.C. so it’s easy to walk to the Spy Museum.
From The Wharf: 7-10 minutes
From the Smithsonian Castle: 10-15 minutes
The Spy Museum is at the L’Enfant Plaza metro stop. From L’Enfant Plaza, walk up the stairs or take elevator f and you will be behind the Spy Museum. Just go around the building to enter.
There are bus stops near the museum.
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
The International Spy Museum is a destination for many of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours of D.C., such as the Big Bus Washington DC Open Top Bus Tour.
Rental bikes and scooters are popular in Washington DC, and you could rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare.
Bike Parking is available outside the museum.
Parking At The International Spy Museum
You have a couple of options for parking if you choose to drive to the museum.
Metered street parking is on 10th Street, SW in front of the museum.
There is a parking garage located underneath the Hilton called the L’Enfant Plaza Garage. You can get 20% off weekday parking and 50% off weekend parking by having your parking ticket validated at the Spy Museum,
There is also valet parking available through the Hilton National Mall.
How long does it take to go through the DC Spy Museum?
When I was researching the Museum before visiting, I was told that most visitors spend 2-3 hours touring the exhibitions. It takes around 1-2 hours on the fifth floor and 1 hour on the fourth floor. From experience, if you want to do the spy mission and all the activities, I’d recommend giving yourself more time, especially in peak periods.
Your Undercover Mission At The Spy Museum If You Choose To Accept It
At the museum, you have a mission. As soon as you step into the lift the experience begins. Strobe lights and voice-over greet you, the doors open and you are in the briefing room. Time to get your undercover identity and mission for the day. Tapping my new Undercover Mission card at one of the briefing room stations, I’m asked to select my favorite images. Then I’m given my cover identity. For the next few hours, I’m Reagan Moore, a personal trainer from Reykjavik, Iceland going to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My mission – get as much information as possible about a new Argentinian leader without getting caught.
Time To Get Undercover Mission Ready
With my spy identity and mission retrieved, it was time to get the mission ready. Double doors open to a theatre, and Morgan Freeman’s familiar voice starts the movie.
My Spy education was now underway with an introduction to the world of espionage. Real former CIA, KGB, and MI6 directors and undercover agents want us to know what it’s really like being a spy. Are we up to the challenge?
The most interesting aspect of this movie is that all of these former CIA, KGB, and MI6 share real examples with us. These included going undercover with Al Queda to prepare us for the museum, and our mission.
Spy Gadgets & Gizmos At The Spy Museum
A member of staff greeted us outside the movie theatre to welcome us and answer any questions—time to explore. My spy education began with 3 exhibitions on the fifth floor. First up are 6 stories of famous spies from around the world including the Mata Hari, Sir Francis Walsingham, and James Lafayette.
Of course, no spy is complete without gadgets, and disguises so I learned all about the tools of the trade used throughout history for covert communications, disguise, secret entry, escape and evasion, surveillance, and counter-surveillance.
This part of the exhibit was really fascinating. There were so many amazing, imaginative, highly technical things on display that inventors, engineers, scientists, computer whizzes, and artists had created.
Learning How To Make Sense Of Secrets
All of the secret information obtained by spies has to be interpreted, and it is time to start thinking like a real spy.
Could you make and break the code? I had a lot of fun trying. After a few attempts, I managed to crack all of the codes. I discovered secret messages in letters, books, leather strips on a pole, and an old cipher disk from the 1400s.
For centuries people have come up with ingenious ways of hiding the real meaning of messages. The most fascinating part was that the success (and failure) of code-makers and breakers. They have literally reshaped battles and changed the course of history on numerous occasions.
The Rich History Of Espionage
With codes cracked, it was time to immerse myself in the rich history of espionage. The exhibits covered so much including the different ways that leaders have influenced events. It also included a variety of covert missions that ranged from sabotage to lethal action.
The featured exhibits at the museum included:
Sabotage – Disrupt. Delay. Destroy which shared stories about sabotage operations including events that occurred during WWII, along with different sabotage artifacts.
Deception put a spotlight on classic deception techniques and strategies that still get used today.
Lethal Action revealed deadly government plots to eliminate spies, operatives, and enemies of the state.
Undermining Nations which included the Nazis’ Operation Bernhard during WWII aimed to wreck Britain’s economy through counterfeit money.
Secret Soldiers that covered the 1960s failed CIA Bay of Pigs operation and the successful 1980s Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan.
Propaganda that provided insights into fake news and how governments have attempted to manipulate public opinion across history. This ranged from Ancient Egypt through to the 2016 US presidential election.
Operational Overview Of My Mission
When I got to the very end of the exhibitions it was time for an operational overview of my mission. Time to find out my. performance as a spy.
This was actually pretty cool as it evaluated whether you could be a good spy. It will highlight your skills, and what you did well, so I learned a few new things about myself.
You can also look up your mission, and how good a spy you are after your museum visit. Simply follow the instructions on the Undercover Mission card. This is only available for a few days after your visit so don’t leave it too long to take a look.
Spy Museum Gift Shop
The gift shop at the Spy Museum is pretty cool. It basically sells everything you can think of relating to the world of espionage. It also includes merchandise of famous spies like Bond.
There is also an online store that you can check out.
Restaurants Near Spy Museum
There are lots of restaurants within a short walking distance of the Spy Museum.
At L’Enfant Plaza, there are some quick-service restaurants. These are all budget-friendly places to eat and a less intimidating option for solo travelers, The restaurants include:
- Charleys Philly Steaks
- Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
- Potbelly Sandwich Works
There are fancier, sit-down restaurants at The Wharf. as well as some casual restaurants like Five Guys. But most of them are sit-down restaurants with full meals or happy hour specials.
If you walk back towards The Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, you will find more pubs and restaurants. I ate at The Elephant and Castle. The food was reasonably priced and delicious.
Is the Spy Museum in Washington DC worth it?
Personally, I loved it, and think it is definitely worth a visit if the world of espionage interests you. This museum has the largest collection of spy-related artifacts in the world. So for a geek like me it was amazing to see so many spy gadgets in one place.
It’s also a really interactive museum. If you like museums where you can play games and learn ‘hands-on’ then you will probably enjoy this museum.
One thing to note is that it’s not at all geared towards small children. This is definitely a museum that caters for adults and older kids. On the museum’s website, it says that the content is best for ages 7 and upwards.
Tips For Visiting The Spy Museum
I visited the Spy Museum at the end of November so not quite the festive season yet or the high seasons for Washington (like cherry blossom time). These are my tips based on my experience at the museum.
- Book your admission tickets as far in advance as you can as they do sell out.
- Keep an eye on the time. This museum is really immersive, and with so many activities and tasks to do, you can lose hours here. I ran out of time towards the end and had to rush the final exhibits.
- If you are able to, visit the Spy Museum in the morning. I found that it got more and more crowded from midday so everything took longer to see and do in the afternoon.
- If you visit in the afternoon allow extra time if you want to do all the interactive elements.
- Allow yourself at least 2-3 hours here to see all the exhibitions properly
- You could spend a day here if you are really into everything spy-related like I am.
- Make the effort to take part in the UNDERCOVER MISSION. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also puts everything you learn in the exhibits into practice. I definitely took more in by also doing the mission.
- If you want to get your full mission briefing after your visit, you need to do this at home. It expires after a fairly short period of time so do it as soon as possible after your visit.
- Give yourself enough time for shopping in the museum gift shop as it’s filled with cool unique things. It also has a pretty extensive selection of books.
- As the museum is really close to the National Mall and Smithsonian Castle there are lots of food options nearby. If you are on a tight budget there are lots of food trucks on the National Mall. Or just walk 10-20 minutes away from the National Mall and attractions to get food. I ate at the Elephant & Castle on Pennsylvania Avenue
If you are planning a visit to Washington DC, or thinking about visiting the Spy Museum I hope that this post is helpful.
FAQ’s About Visting The Spy Museum in Washington DC
What can I expect to see and experience at the Spy Museum in Washington, DC?
How much time should I allocate for a visit to the Spy Museum?
Are there interactive exhibits or activities suitable for both adults and children?
What are the Spy Museum’s operating hours and admission fees?
Can I purchase tickets in advance, and are there any benefits to doing so?
Is photography allowed inside the spy museum?
Are there any recommended nearby attractions or dining options to complement the museum visit?
Are guided tours available at the Spy Museum, and do they offer a more in-depth experience?
Is the museum suitable for visitors with mobility challenges? Are there accommodations available?
Is there a gift shop or souvenir store where I can purchase spy-themed memorabilia?
Are there any special events or programs hosted at the Spy Museum throughout the year?
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Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.