We watch a lot of documentaries on the History Channel. Over the years, the founder of the International Spy Museum was interviewed time and time again about espionage, spying and political intrigue as it fits with the course of world history. After hearing his almost-unbelievable stories, we knew that one day we wanted to visit the Spy Museum. After years of dreaming, we finally got our chance during our visit to see the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.
Though the ticket price is steep, we found that our visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. was definitely worth it. Here’s our review of how to best enjoy the museum, where to park and how to get there, as well as the two things we definitely did not like about our visit.
What is the International Spy Museum?
The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. is a non-profit museum that reveals the behind-the-scenes secrets of intelligence gathering for national security. The museum tells a fascinating and interesting tale of espionage and how it has shaped the entire world’s history. Both successes and failures are shared in intelligence gathering over the centuries.
Where is the Spy Museum Located?
In Washington D.C., the International Spy Museum is located in L’Enfant Plaza. It is a 7 minute walk from The Wharf and around a 10-15 minute walk from the Smithsonian Castle on the Washington Mall. From the Tidal Basin, it is about a 20-25 minute walk to the museum.
The modern architecture building is in the same courtyard as the Hilton Washington D.C. National Mall. The L’Enfant Plaza Metro station is just underneath the museum.
It is located directly across from the United States Postal Service headquarters.
What is the Admission Cost?
In 2022, Spy Museum Admission Tickets cost $26.95 for adults. Tickets for children age 7-12 cost $16.95, while kids 6 and under can enter for free. Senior, Military and College Student tickets are $23.95.
Spy Museum tickets can be purchased online and we highly suggest you do so! The tickets often sell out completely for each day.
Are Discount Codes Available?
We did not find any discount codes for the Spy Museum through AAA or other traditional places. When we checked into the Hilton National Mall, there was a QR code that offered a discount for Spy Museum tickets.
Be sure to look into the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass for a ticket to the Spy Museum. This pass also includes a hop-on hop-off bus tour which might save you money if you plan on taking a bus tour, too.
Is the International Spy Museum Worth It? Our Review
The Spy Museum in Washington D.C. is definitely worth it if you are fascinated by the world of James Bond, secret agents and unique technology that isn’t a part of your normal life. If you are interested in how history has been shaped due to espionage and spies, this is the museum that you want to see.
If you are not interested in the history of spying, or you don’t care about important historical events in world history, then this museum is definitely not for you. If you get bored watching 007 movies, then don’t bother spending time here.
This James Bond Collection Boxed set is a definite must-have for any spy-thriller lover! We were really surprised at how inexpensive it is for 24 of the films!
We absolutely loved our visit to the Spy Museum and would honestly go back. We visited during March 2022 and personally bought our tickets.
From the moment that you walk into the lobby of the museum, you can instantly tell this is a modern attraction that is geared towards today’s generation. The technology, lighting, video and interactive displays that the Spy Museum uses is appropriate for keeping visitors entertained and educated without getting bored.
Upon entering the museum, we were actually surprised to find a film narrated by Morgan Freeman as the introduction to the museum. After watching the film, you will exit into the first of two levels of the museum floors. If you want, you can grab a Spy Badge and be assigned a secret cover and mission to do while exploring the museum exhibits.
The spy badge is optional, but we highly recommend doing it. You will place your badge on a computer display and be asked a variety of questions. Depending on those answers, you will be assigned a spy name, a cover story, and given a mission to complete throughout your visit.
Be sure to take a picture or write down your spy name, profession and password, because you will need it late on!
Interactive kiosks allow you to check in with your spy badge and complete tasks based on what you have learned in nearby exhibits. This is definitely one of the highlights of the entire museum.
However, because it is so much fun and does take a bit of time when you are on the computers, the lines waiting for the kiosks can start to get a bit long. If there was one complaint that we have about the Spy Museum, it is that they need to add a lot more computer kiosks to accommodate guests who are doing the Spy missions.
The displays and exhibits are quite fascinating to read and watch. There is a lot of video used throughout the museum, which is definitely a great way to learn about the intelligence systems.
I personally liked the videos showing how movie stars and even royalty have been known to work as secret agents or hire spies.
The educational displays span generations of espionage, from the early days and the Cold War to modern day events and the capture of Osama Bin Laden. One of the most intriguing interactive opportunities in the museum is the chance to sit down in a briefing room and do your own calculations of the probability that a person is a spy based on actual intel from the invasion that led to the capture of Bin Laden.
There is so much to see and read in this museum that you probably won’t be able to do it all. In fact, another big complaint that we have about the museum is that it is so crowded that it is nearly impossible to get to all of the exhibits. You pretty much have to read portions of a display and then leave because there is always a small crowd in front of every display.
Perhaps if you went early in the day or later at night the crowds wouldn’t be so bad. To put our visit in context, we visited in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. However, it was Spring break time and cherry blossom time in Washington D.C. There was a huge amount of school groups at the museum arriving by tour bus. I don’t know if other times of the year are less crowded.
How Long Does it Take to Get Through the Spy Museum?
Upon entering the Spy Museum, a docent states that the average time spent in the museum is 2-3 hours. We agree with that estimation, as we spent 3 hours in the museum taking our time reading most of the exhibits.
A helpful feature throughout the museum is the arrows on the floor directing your path. On each arrow it shows the percentage of the museum that you have seen already, helping you manage your time.
For the best visit to the Spy Museum, keep these helpful tips in mind before you arrive:
- Reserve a ticket in advance. Tickets sell out fast for the limited capacity museum, and you want to make sure that you can go on the day that works for you. For example, we arrived at 12:15 p.m. on a Wednesday with our advance purchase tickets. For that day, the next available time for walk-up tickets was 5:45 p.m. That’s a long time to wait if you didn’t already have your timed entry.
- Consider visiting later at night. The Spy Museum is open well past the Smithsonian Museums. If you are looking for something to do past 5 p.m., purchase a later ticket.
- You can leave the museum to get something to eat and return later. In L’Enfant Plaza next to the museum, there are some fast-food restaurants such as Jamba Juice. The Starbucks and the restaurant/bar combo in the nearby Hilton National Mall Hotel are also easy places to grab a meal while at the museum.
- Leave time for shopping in the museum gift shop! There are so many unique things to see in the store, as well as an extensive selection of books.
How to Get To the Spy Museum
There are a variety of ways to get to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C., including:
The Spy Museum is located over the L’Enfant Plaza metro stop. Come up the stairs or elevator from L’Enfant Plaza and you will be directly behind the Spy Museum. Just go around the building and enter.
If you have a vehicle, there is street parking available on the road and in the Hilton Hotel garage.
With its location among the most popular destinations in Washington D.C., walking to the Spy Museum doesn’t take long to walk to from other points of interest.
- From the Tidal Basin: 20-25 minutes (the part of the Tidal Basin near the Mandarin Oriental hotel, not from the Jefferson Memorial or Washington Monument)
- From The Wharf: 7-10 minutes
- From the Smithsonian Castle: 10-15 minutes
Rental bikes and scooters are very popular in D.C. You can rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare and park it just outside of the museum.
Bike parking is also available for personal bikes.
Metrobus stops are located nearby.
A free neighborhood shuttle from The Wharf makes stops by the Spy Museum.
The International Spy Museum is a destination for many of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours of D.C., such as the Big Bus Washington DC Open Top Bus Tour.
With the Washington DC Sightseeing Pass, you get a hop-on, hop-off bus tour ticket with your attraction ticket, which includes the Spy Museum.
International Spy Museum Parking
There is a lot of street parking on 10th Street, SW in front of the museum. The address is 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW Washington DC 20024. This is metered parking.
There is a parking garage which is located underneath the Hilton, the L’Enfant Plaza Garage. You can receive 20% off weekday parking or 50% off weekend parking by having your ticket validated at the Spy Museum.
Valet parking is available through the Hilton National Mall.
Restaurants Near Spy Museum
There are a variety of restaurants located nearby the Spy Museum.
In L’Enfant Plaza, immediately behind the museum building and down the stairs, you will find quick service restaurants. These are all budget-friendly places to eat and definitely geared towards school groups and local workers. The restaurants include:
- Jamba Juice
- Charleys Philly Steaks (We had lunch here and it was good)
- Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
- Potbelly Sandwich Works
- And more….
Fancier, sit-down restaurants can be found at The Wharf. Of course, there are some casual restaurants such as Five Guys and District Donuts. However, the majority are sit-down restaurants with full meals or happy hour specials. The Wharf is about a 7 minute walk away.
Is the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. worth the cost of $26.95 for tickets? If you enjoy movies such as James Bond or the Jason Bourne series, or if you are fascinated by history, it is definitely worth it. While most attractions in America’s capital are free or much less expensive, the value that you get for your ticket price is pretty good considering these unique and rare artifacts can’t be seen in many other places.