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International Spy Museum

By Mary Gallagher

Probably one of any age tourist’s favorite stops is the International Spy Museum which I have visited quite a few times for special events, just to look around, shop for gifts in the gift shop and attend lectures. It is such a success that timing your entry to a slower time of day is a smart move. Teenage boys and their fathers seem to especially proliferate.

This last summer on July 19, 2007 the wildly successful International Spy Museum celebrated its 5th Anniversary. Since its opening in July 2002, the Museum has helped change the face of this area of downtown Washington DC. Now well past the summers 3.5 million guest mark, this is a great success story in a town where competition is fierce with over 100 museums in the greater DC metropolitan area, most offering free admission.

Its engaging interactive exhibits, the whole atmosphere it provides with state-of-the-art immersive environments and the compelling personal stories of real spies have made the International Spy Museum a must-see destination. A little pricey, it’s an all day or at least half day experience, and as long as most other museums are free it won’t be a strain on your budget. As usual, my advice is to take the metro and walk a block as parking is slim and pricey. Dozens of every type of restaurant are in the area.

“The Museum’s visitors want to know what real world intelligence is all about. Visitors are coming to the Spy Museum in large numbers to discover just that.” said Peter Earnest, founding Executive Director of the Spy Museum. Earnest looks like a classic British spy posing as a diplomat or CEO but his true life stories will wow you.

In addition to the permanent exhibition, the Museum has continued to

break new ground with special exhibitions like the newest OPERATION SPY(tm). This spy adventure takes the interactive concept to the next level by combining the most innovative features of exhibits, movies, computer games, theatrical shows, and rides into one electrifying experience.

Participants in OPERATION SPY assume the role of U.S. intelligence officers on an intrigue-filled international mission. The hour-long experience combines live-action, video, themed environments, special effects, and hands-on activities to create a series of reality-based challenges where guests “think, feel, and act” like real intelligence officers in the field. The museums “actors” (really your guides) are quite convincing and enthusiastic about their roles. By the way I was a total failure at this exercise and any spy would have easily escaped my detection.

The museum offers private groups a chance to go deep inside the shadowy world of espionage with their Speaker Series and Scavenger Hunts. Now the Museum’s commitment to providing visitors with a unique experience has reached beyond the Museum walls as well. SPY CITY TOURS(tm), a bus tour that blows the cover off some of the most notorious spy cases ever to unfold in the nation’s capital is also available. The tour features some of the most intriguing sites in downtown DC and includes an interactive mission and video briefings from former intelligence officers. “As a private organization, the International Spy Museum has reinvented the museum experience – one I am excited to build upon as we continue to grow the brand and ensure a long life for this ground-breaking organization.” said Paul Bosch, Chief Operating Officer of the Spy Museum.

Programs at the museum explore intelligence gathering and the role spies have played throughout history. They serve as a neutral forum for discussion of intelligence-related issues and give the public the information they need to make informed decisions about the role of intelligence activity and national security in society. From panels to lectures to hands on workshops, the Museum’s programs provide something for every spy enthusiast.

  • “Inside Stories” take attendees “behind the scenes” with personal accounts, informed opinions, and new insights into world affairs—both current and historic.
  • “Hot Topic” programs probe current issues, from the re-emergence of the Kremlin in Russia to the transformation of the U.S. intelligence field.
  • “Secret History of History” programs trace the impact of spies from biblical times to the recent past, covering topics such as Civil War spies, World War II resistance efforts, and the FBI’s hunt for Weather Underground fugitives.
  • “Spies on Screen” feature espionage related films with expert commentary—from the classic to the contemporary—from Dr. Strangelove to The Lives of Others.
  • “Spy School Workshops,” led by intelligence professionals, give hands-on opportunities to crack codes, read body language, detect surveillance, and more.
  • For something really unique, “Dinner with a Spy” is an intimate opportunity to dine and dish with a former intelligence operative.

International Spy Museum/Elite Surveillance Team members train regularly with a former CIA Officer on the streets of D.C. Programs are held at the Spy Museum and collaborating institutions. Most programs have a registration fee and some are free.

The International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum, the world’s only public institution dedicated to the world history of espionage, features the largest permanent collection of spy-related artifacts on public display. Through interactive exhibits, film and hands-on components, the Museum traces the evolution of espionage through the stories of individual men and women who practiced the profession, providing context for guests to interpret the role intelligence plays in current events.

New Rates Effective:  2 January 2008

To provide exceptional service and maintain a highly rewarding and interactive museum experience, the following new rates will take effect 2 January 2008:

Permanent Exhibition:

$18: Adults

$17: Seniors (65+), Military/Intelligence (with I.D.)

$15: Children, ages 5-11

Free: Children, age 4 and under

Operation Spy:

$14: Adults 12+

Combined Admission:

$25: Adults 12+

2008 Hours***:

Jan 2 – Feb 29         10am – 6pm Daily

Mar 1 – Mar 14         10am – 6pm Daily*

Mar 15 – Apr. 12        9am – 8pm Daily

Apr 13 – Aug 10         9am – 7pm Daily

Aug 11 – Aug 30        10am – 7pm Daily

Aug 31 – Dec 31        10am – 6pm Daily**

*Except Saturdays 10am – 8pm

**Except Saturdays in September and October 10am – 7pm

***Hours are Subject to Change. The Museum will extend hours for most holiday weekends. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. On occasion, the Museum closes for private events earlier than regular visiting hours, please check or call 202.EYE.SPYU for the most up-to-date information.

The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street, NW in Washington, DC.  For information on hours of operation and exhibit features, visit or phone 202.EYE.SPY.U (202.393.7798). Advance tickets are recommended and are available through Ticketmaster at 800.551.SEAT, online at and at all Ticketmaster locations.

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