James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mata Hari … all famous names because everybody loves a good spy story. We can't get enough of the intrigue, the lies, the clever ruses and nerves of steel. That's why the moment we learned of it, the kids and I made room in our schedule to visit Washington DC's International Spy Museum for a glimpse into the secret lives of spies.
The museum drew us in right away by giving us a spy identity and cover story to memorize, showing an orientation video, then sending us to “spy school:” a series of games and interactive exhibits about the art of spying.
We moved from the spy school to a series of exhibits that moved through the history of spying. I was fascinated by the spy gadgets exhibit, which included items used throughout the years to uncover and protect secret information, like men's shoes with a concealed compartment in the right heel or a lipstick tube that fires bullets. The kids loved the James Bond exhibit.
We headed down to the first floor of the museum and walked into a replica of Berlin during the bad old days of the cold war, the backdrop for exhibits on the USA vs USSR espionage madness that dominated the latter part of the 20th century. I got a kick out of the video in which the women who worked with notorious CIA mole Aldrich Ames detailed how he treated them like “dumb broads” … until they helped bring him down.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum offers simulated spy experiences for an additional price. The museum created a fictional country, Khandar, in one of its wings and Operation Spy participants head there to meet their contact, receive instructions and embark on their mission, using their wits and talents to decrypt messages, interrogate suspects and escape danger. Sounds fun, right? Adults and kids aged 12 and up can take part in this adventure. Adults and kids aged 10 and up can head out to the streets of Washington DC armed with a GPS to solve a mission as part of the Spy in the City adventure.
The museum is a bit on the pricy side, considering all the free Smithsonians around, and there's a lot of reading required to get the most out of it, so I don't recommend it for kids younger than eight.