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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

International Spy Museum: World’s Largest Collection of Espionage Artifacts

International Spy Museum

BEST GIFT SHOP EVER! Okay, now that I have that out of the way, let me tell you about one of new favorite museums.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

While in DC over spring break, we visited the International Spy Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of espionage artifacts. We also visited the Air and Space Museum, so we continued in the vein of geeky, techy adventures.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Both kids have watched all four movies in the The Spy Kids series multiple times, and wish they were Carmen and Juni Cortez. (Which would make me Carla Gugino in a black leather get-up. I could live with that.) Naturally, The Girl wants to be a spy when she grows up. Considering her skill at lying with the face of an angel, I would say she has a good shot.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

If you are even slightly intrigued by spies, their gadgets, and their undercover adventures, you will love this place. When you arrive, you choose your “cover,” adopting a name and back story. The Boy took this task seriously, writing down all the details of Yuan Zheng, the 39-year old dentist he had become.

Spy Museum

School for Spies Gallery. Photo courtesy the International Spy Museum

Most of the museum experience is passive – looking at the collection of espionage artifacts behind glass. But I found the displays of disguises, weapons, invisible ink, and buttonhole cameras really intriguing. You can also watch videos describing different facets of espionage, like surveillance and picking locks.


Listening to a "bugged" conversation.

You’ll learn about the history of espionage from its beginnings, in 400 BC, to modern day cyber threats. Some of the artifacts, like the lipstick pistol, looked like they came straight out of a James Bond movie, but they were REAL. I was also taken off guard to find out about the long history of espionage; there’s a 1777 letter by George Washington authorizing a spy network in New York.

With just a few “hands-on” exhibits, like the crawl-through air duct and the computer kiosk used to access satellite surveillance, The Girl surprisingly lost interest in an hour. This is definitely an experience best suited for ages eight and up, and The Boy wanted to see everything.

telephone booth

"pssst...the eagle flies at midnight."

And did I mention…the BEST GIFT SHOP EVER?! Save time for shopping this fun and extensive selection – in 5000 sq. ft. — of spy gadgets, disguise kits, movies, books, clothing, souvenirs and more. I may even try their online store closer to Christmas…

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):

All ages can relate to something within these exhibits. At least for an hour, anyway! Our experience was greatly enhanced by the fact that we arrived when it opened in the morning. The crowds built up during the day, and some of the galleries were feeling a bit claustrophobic by the time we left two hours later.

Hey you! Go BIG!:

International Spy Museum

800 F ST NW, Washington DC, 20004

(202) EYE.SPYU


War of the Spies Gallery. Photo courtesy the International Spy Museum

Disclaimer: The International Spy Museum hosted our visit. 



  1. Kristina said,
    May 10, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    I think, as the kids have watched movies, the Spy museum was something like a dream for them :)))

  2. Leigh said,
    May 10, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

    It sounds super cool! However, we have a 1 year old and a 3 year old so I think you’re telling me we should wait awhile before visiting with them. DC is on my list though, we’ll get there someday! Hopefully they’ll still have the awesome Spy Girl T-shirts in the “best ever” gift shop! :0)

  3. May 12, 2012 @ 4:02 am

    Its amazing & super cool. Most of the museum experience is passive as its looking at the collection of espionage artifacts behind glass…

  4. May 16, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    I would love to go here. Looks so fun & exciting!!! Makes a better experience than a stuffy boring museum!!!

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  1. May 30, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

    […] District of Columbia, USA   Traci Suppa presents World’s Largest Collection of Espionage Artifacts, Washington DC posted at Go BIG or Go Home, saying, “Is it wrong to love a museum for its gift shop? The […]