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Your Guide to Visiting the New International Spy Museum in Washington, DC
We’ve got everything you need to know about the new home for one of Washington, DC’s most popular attractions.
Formerly a fixture in DC’s Downtown neighborhood, the International Spy Museum has moved to a new facility in L’Enfant Plaza, located in the Southwest Waterfront. The state-of-the-art museum offers enough spy-related intrigue and interactive fun to fill an entire day. The museum is open from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
Read on for more reasons why you should visit the re-imagined attraction that will help the entire family discover the fascinating world of espionage. Check out the museum's website for more information and to purchase your tickets today.
With its move to L’Enfant Plaza, the International Spy Museum has increased its total square footage to 140,000, doubling its footprint from the F Street location and allowing for a more in-depth experience. In addition to the expanded exhibition space and interactive elements, the new-look museum will now also offer 5,500 square feet of rotating exhibit space on its third floor. In short: there’s lots and lots of new stuff to see at one of the city’s most technologically advanced museums.
The new International Spy Museum journeys well beyond the Western focus of its first iteration. In total, 39 countries are featured in the museum, with spies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East all showcased. New exhibits also go into much deeper detail regarding the science, technology and analysis used in spycraft. Controversial topics, including the use of torture and secret surveillance, are also covered, with multiple perspectives shared that inspire rumination and debate.
When you begin your adventure through the new Spy Museum, make sure to check in to receive your Undercover Mission. You will be granted a lanyard, which you can use to scan at a kiosk to begin your solo operation. You will be asked several questions, the answers to which determine your mission, cover identity and expertise. From there, you continue your mission on kiosks throughout the exhibit rooms. Along the way, you will be challenged to analyze clues, keep your cover, find and contact sources, collect intel at dead drop sites and much more. Your skills are monitored throughout and when you get home, you can access a personal score sheet online through the information on your lanyard, which then leads to even more content.
On the museum’s fifth floor, you can immerse yourself in the stories of spies that date all the way back to the 16th century. For the most part, these fascinating adventures are detailed through first-person video accounts by actors playing the spies, including Costa Ronin from The Americans, who takes on the role of Dmitri Bystrolyotov, a Russian intelligence officer who had no official cover, assumed dozens of identities and eventually spent 16 years in various Gulag camps. You can also get to know Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster and hear the tale of James Lafayette, an African American slave who spied for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Morten Storm is a former spy still around to tell his incredible story, in which he successfully infiltrated Islamic militant circles after spending years as an Islamic radical.
Thanks to the immense donation of collector H. Keith Milton, who contributed thousands of items, the new Spy Museum’s collection of spy gadgets and tools is more robust than ever before. You can look at and learn about items used for surveillance and counter-surveillance, escape and evasion, disguise, secret entry and more. Highlights include a coat fitted with a buttonhole camera (from Russia), a 1922 silver dollar equipped with a suicide pin (from the U.S.) and a Steineck ABC Wristwatch featuring a tiny camera (from Germany).
Original short films are sprinkled throughout your Spy Museum excursion. The Briefing Theater includes a film that guides you through the experience of being a spy, including dead drops, disguises and deceit. Real Spies, Real Stories dives deep into real-life spy operations from the actual participants, providing insight into the trade that you can’t get anywhere else.
The new International Spy Museum is filled with interactive elements. In addition to your Undercover Mission, there’s also Mind Games, which showcases the mental patterns and biases that can foil intelligence operations. Red Teaming allows you to help the CIA examine a compound that may or may not contain Osama Bin Laden, a replica of the actual exercise that the organization went through in order to properly assess whether Bin Laden was present and if a raid was necessary.
Clandestine operations going as far back as the Trojan Horse are exhibited at the new Spy Museum, illuminating the fact that covert actions have been a part of warfare for ages. You’ll encounter sections on illusory magic, ninjas and propaganda, among many others. Anatomy of an Assassination takes you all the way through the process, from the identification of a target to the strategy employed to the act itself to the aftermath.
The fourth floor features License to Thrill: Our Favorite Spies, where visitors can watch clips from famous spy films and television shows, including The Americans, Salt and the Jason Bourne series. The gallery also includes testimonials from actual spies, who reveal the realism of these films and shows and discuss which spy stories impacted their work, as well as a wide range of artifacts that touches both The Avengers and Game of Thrones.