The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To?

Although I have been to Washington, D.C. many times over the years, I had never been to the International Spy Museum, which opened in 2002, until recently. To give you a little background on me, I was a huge James Bond fan as a kid and have seen every Bond movie multiple times. I’ve seen all of the other popular spy-related movies and have always loved them. In fact, at one point in my life I wanted to either be an FBI or CIA agent.

I knew when I was going to be in Washington, D.C. in the spring I wanted to finally go to the International Spy Museum. In fact that was really the only other thing I wanted to do besides check out the cherry blossoms. The real reason I was going to D.C. in the first place was to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run so I thought it would be a good way to spend the rest of the day after the race.

If I’ve learned anything when it comes to visiting museums during the pandemic, it’s check the website first to see what the requirements are. I also knew most museums prefer people to buy admission online and some don’t admit you without a pre-purchased ticket. The International Spy Museum was no different and had openings for days and times for tickets to purchase online.

I’ve also learned the hard way that sometimes museums (and art galleries and other places that now require you to purchase tickets in advance that didn’t used to have that policy) often sell out, especially if it’s during a busy time of year (Cherry Blossom Season is hugely busy). I checked the International Spy Museum’s ticket status online weeks before I flew to Washington, D.C. (still during Cherry Blossom Season, though) and it didn’t seem to be too terribly busy so I felt confident I could still get a ticket the weekend I would be there for that Sunday. Since the tickets are non-refundable I waited until that Friday and I had arrived in the city to buy my ticket, just to be sure.

So what is the museum like, you may be asking? Is it worth the admission of $30.57 for adults? How much time should I allow when I go?

First, a brief word about the price of admission. I paid $30.57 but when you go to the website, it lists admission for adults as $26.95. What’s the discrepancy? Well, there’s a $2.00 online fee and sales tax of $1.62, so when you add all of that together you come up with $30.57. That all adds up and for a family of four if you have two young children, for example, you’ll be paying almost $100. This isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit, especially if you will be buying multiple tickets.

Back to my first question- what’s the museum like? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. If you got that joke, you’re probably a good candidate to go to the museum. But seriously, the museum experiences are on the 4th and 5th floors of the building, with the gift shop on the ground floor. When your ticket is scanned, you’ll go up the elevator to the 5th floor for “briefing.” The museum is immersive so the idea is to pretend like you’re a spy that has been given an identity and a mission. When you see certain kiosks relating to the spy mission, you scan the badge you were given at the beginning, answer some questions, and see if you pass the test so you can move on to the next step of the mission. There are hints along the way and reminders if you forget your spy name or information given to you at briefing. This part is also optional so if you’re just not into that you don’t have to do it and can still walk around and look at the displays.

Also on the 5th floor, there are displays on different spies from around the world, some of the gadgets used over the years, different codes used by spies, and covert missions. I found the information on this floor extremely interesting since I’ve always been intrigued by spies and I enjoyed seeing all of the gadgets that were used along with the background information behind how they were made. Reading about all of the covert operations, both the successful ones and the ones that failed was also interesting.

The 4th floor includes displays on spies from the American Revolution all the way up to modern spying methods including cyber spies. There are displays with spy information before the Berlin Wall was removed and other historical information. One of the more controversial subjects of spying is also on this floor, torture methods and there is information about how the laws for this have changed since September 11. You can also watch a video on how to decide if spies have gone too far. Finally, there’s a debriefing center with hands-on kiosks where you answer questions and find out if you completed your mission or not (I did, in case any of you are on the edge of your seat wondering).

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve always been intrigued by spies and international espionage so I loved this museum. If you’re not a big fan, you likely won’t enjoy it nearly as much. I had 2 1/2 hours with my ticket to explore the museum and I spent that entire time doing just that. If you just skim the displays and don’t engage in the hands-on kiosks and skip the mission you could potentially only spend an hour or less here.

Display with spy-related toys and other items

I saw many young children here, which honestly surprised me since a decent amount of the material might be considered inappropriate for children under 12. I’m sure they also wouldn’t grasp many of the more complicated concepts at the displays and videos at a young age. Perhaps parents see the lure of the mission and think that will entertain them but I would think parents with children under 12 might want their children to skip this museum, in my opinion. This is no “Disney” Epcot Center adventure game, in other words, but to each his own.

If you can’t tell by now, the answer to my question of is it worth going to, my answer is yes if you’re a fan of spies and spy-related information but probably not if you could take it or leave it. You likely would be bored with all of the displays if you don’t care about the information. It would be like when I went to the Football Hall of Fame in Ohio despite having zero interest in football- it bored me to tears and I only went because I was with someone else who wanted to go there.

For tickets and more information, go to their website: https://www.spymuseum.org/

Have you been to the International Spy Museum or have you wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet? If you’ve been, tell me what your experience was like.

Happy travels!

Donna

Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

10 thoughts on “The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To?”

  1. I’ve been to DC many times but always for business or a race so I haven’t done much sight seeing (although running MCM is the best tour of DC ever IMO). This sounds like it would not make my top 10 list of things to do in DC but the spy concept does have some appeal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s an incredible number of things to do in DC, which is part of the reason I hadn’t gone here before. I think it probably would make my top 10 list but I’m a big spy fan so the appeal is greater for me than for someone who isn’t that into spy-related history.

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  2. Thanks for the info. It does sound interesting but there are so many other museums in DC that I would have to move this to the bottom of my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I went to DC many times growing up and the year I lived in MD — but that was long before this museum opened (mid 80s).

    I LOVE Bond! Fun fact: in college there was a 24 hr Bond movie marathon. I worked as a ticket taker (which meant I got to go to movies for free). I worked the marathon — the whole thing — except we saw it going back in time. It was so much fun to see the different Bonds & to Sean Connery getting younger in each film (or maybe that was the sleep deprivation).

    I’m not sure I’d pay $30 for it, but it does sound interesting & with some thought provoking parts, too.

    That year I worked in MD? I worked for the NSA. No, I most definitely was not a spy, although in fact, when I worked there (and for many years afterwards), I wasn’t actually allowed to tell people I worked there. I’m probably still not supposed to but it was almost 38 years ago. That was also the trip were they lost my luggage and I interviewed pretty in pink!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That movie marathon sounds like fun, especially seeing all of the different Bond characters. Cool background story with you at the NSA. Were you supposed to have some story made up to tell people where you worked?

      Liked by 1 person

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