International Spy Museum Brings Espionage Home

Mixing the serious history of spying with the fun of fictionalized espionage, the International Spy Museum covers all stations (if it's even there at all).

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

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Washington, D.C. offers more tourist attractions than a human could manage to see in a month of Sundays, but most of them offer a very similar, familiar atmosphere. Since our nation’s capitol is steeped in history with monuments to men and women who changed the course of human civilization around the country, D.C. drenches itself in seriousness. From the astounding collection of Smithsonian Museums to the presidential monuments, there’s endless warranted significant — but very few laughs or eyebrow raises.

The International Spy Museum fixes that — injecting some fun into its exhibitions, while always acknowledging the life and death nature of the work featured inside its walls.

Related: Bond in Motion: Covent Garden

Focusing on various aspects of spy craft through the centuries, the International Spy Museum invites a visitor to assume a cover identity and maintain the art of deception while examining displays on real world spies — both successful and tragically doomed. There are creative weapons and surveillance gadgets everywhere, proving that the Q Branch gimmicks from James Bond’s world all have very real inspirations.

While the spy world could be treated with as much stoic reverence as everything else in Washington, the International Spy Museum makes exploring spyycraft entertaining — often blending the factual basis of intelligence gathering with the popular fiction genre the work inspired. From 007 to The Man from Uncle and Get Smart, we love spy stories (dramatic or comedic), and the museum embraces the literary and Hollywood spy worlds without turning up its nose or acting as though the adventures of Bond are beneath them.

In fact, the major attraction currently on at the museum is Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, including a vast collection of actual costumes and movie props handled by the likes of Silva, Oddjob and their evil kin. 

The museum is also home to an ongoing lecture series, employing Washington’s collection of real world international intelligence experts. International Spy Museum admission is $21.95, with special group rates when needed.

Of course, visitors to the International Spy Museum are asked by a pile of souvenirs in its gift shop to deny everything. So, I might be lying. The museum, if it’s even there, might be a dull waste of money. You’ll have to decide for yourself with some of the images below.