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Ever wondered what it’s like to be a spy? Live out this mysterious fantasy at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Opened in 2002, this destination is the only public museum in the country entirely dedicated to the art of espionage. The modern, privately owned museum holds the largest collection of espionage artifacts currently on public display. Learn about famous spies while practicing strategy and technique! All members of the family will love this interactive museum.
5 Reasons to See the International Spy Museum During a Trip to Washington DC
When we first traveled to Washington DC with our two sons, we focused on visiting the Smithsonian institutions and free destinations, such as the National Zoo, the United States Capitol, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Upon our recent return two years later, we zoned-in on the International Spy Museum after a high recommendation from friends.
I’m here to say it did not disappoint. All four of us, including the boys, ages 11 and 13, were captivated by this super-cool museum. Years ago, I was a big fan of Jennifer Garner’s show, Alias. So I channeled my best Sydney Bristow and imagined living a life of lies! Here are five reasons why you should work a stop at this museum into your visit to the nation’s capital.
1. The International Spy Museum is Slick and Interactive
It’s pretty clear from the get-go that this is no ordinary museum. A sign that reads “Keep Calm and Spy On” greets visitors at the entrance. Right away, we were asked to adopt a cover identity. Throughout the museum, various interactive stations tested us about these secret identities. Could we remember all the details of our cover? “Where are you from?” or “Where are you going?” Nope! But it was fun trying! It’s a fun and clever way to engage families.
A briefing film introduced us to the world of espionage and asked the question: what might motivate you to join the CIA or KGB? Patriotism? Finances? Ego?
2. Exhibits are Cool and Creative
We really geeked out while seeing the fountain pen camera and a lipstick pistol. Seriously, how cool is that? An interactive exhibit shows how carefully crafted disguises can completely alter a person’s appearance. We even crawled through mock duct work, peering down through little windows onto the museum floor, to see how quiet and stealthy we could be. One of my favorite visuals was the Trojan Horse in an area called The Secret History of History. This well-known, ancient tale revolves around a wooden animal used to sneak Greeks into the city of Troy. To see a sizable recreation was pretty awesome.
3. Spy Facts are 100% Fascinating
We learned some really interesting little-known facts. While ninja have a high profile in popular culture, their specialty is actually to remain invisible and operate below the radar. Mata Hari – the exotic dancer turned spy during World War I – was said to seduce military officials into giving up important secrets. But in reality, she may have been a legend in her own mind. Also, it’s true! Pigeons aren’t just cute city birds that peck away at unwanted pretzels. They were used to carry messages over enemy lines in World War I and II.
4. Go Behind-the-Scenes Into James Bond’s World
Who doesn’t love the incomparable James Bond? Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains invites visitors into this famous spy’s world. This exhibit just feels cool – almost like an underground bunker with tin walls and cool lights.
A hundred different artifacts from the films, such as costumes and props, are on display. Signage explains how Bond plots have matured with the times. Videos featuring real-life intelligence professionals compare fact and fiction. Both of my sons tried out Hang Time, an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to experience a Bond Moment. In the movies, Bond is often in a dangerous scenario, hanging from a bridge, a helicopter or building ledge, right? And he makes it look easy. So participants hang from a bar that moves up and down, as a timer counts the seconds. My thirteen year old “hung in there” for almost a minute!
5. Family Fun Is Everywhere
The “Top Secret Family Mission” leaflet – that comes along with admission – keeps kids engaged. It also allows children and parents to follow clues and learn facts together. I love to put away the tech gadgets and enjoy a real life experience with the guys, side by side. Visiting this museum gave us the chance to laugh together as we unraveled secrets together. The experience sparked conversation, as it ignited our imaginations.
Word to the wise: buy tickets online or arrive at the International Spy Museum in the morning. This destination has become very popular. Long lines and crowds are common. Also, it’s not cheap. Adult admission is $21.95 while a youth ticket, for ages 7 to 11, costs $14.95. Children age 6 and under get in for free. The museum features senior, military, fire and law enforcement discounts. The experience, however, is worth the cost. The International Spy Museum is one of the most creative destinations we’ve ever visited. It’s no secret – a visit equals a very memorable experience.
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