International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
The International Spy Museum in Washington, DC

In the spy capital of the world, it’s no surprise that the International Spy Museum is a hot ticket.  In downtown Washington DC, just steps from the FBI building, this one-of-a-kind tourist attraction has been educating the masses and instilling paranoia since it first opened in 2002.

This past weekend, between schmoozing and stage presentations at the Travel & Adventure show, I had a chance to check out The Spy Museum.

This unique museum traces the history of espionage – from Biblical times, through World War II, the Cold War, to modern day.  Dubbed “the world’s second oldest profession”, spying has quite the rap sheet.

Museum exhibits include: testimonials from former CIA agents, tips on disguises, surveillance and decoding classified information.  Displays are packed with authentic artifacts and cool spy gear. There’s even an Aston Martin – used in the 1964 James Bond thriller Goldfinger – fully loaded with an ejector seat, machine guns and tire-slashers.

I loved the spy gadgets.  There’s the lipstick tube that morphs into a pistol, the camera watch, the poison gas gun, even the radio transmitter disguised as dog poo.

Pace yourself when you stroll through the Spy Museum.  There’s a lot to see and just when you think you’ve reached the end of this huge and exhaustive collection, there’s another labyrinth of rooms filled with more stuff.

For those Bond wannabes who prefer sitting to strolling, Spy City Tours offers an alternative to the museum-going experience.  This coach tour, launched in September, is taking espionage to the streets.

Departing from Union Station, this two-hour Grayline tour claims to hit “Washington’s most notable espionage sites.”  If you only have a few days to visit, this tour kills two birds – seeing the city while learning about real life spies.  A training officer (a.k.a the tour guide) teaches the group about the risky spy missions that went down in DC.

Tourists can expect to see buildings where clandestine meetings unfolded; hear stories about men who betrayed their countries; try to decode their own secret (but very simple) message.

“Trust no one. Spies are among us,” warns the training officer.  “According to CIA video sources, undercover ops often use disguises and pose as average people.  Dog walkers, couriers or repairmen may actually be spies.”

With so much talk of covert missions and surveillance gadgets, it’s easy to feel paranoid.  Who’s watching?  Are pedestrians innocent bystanders or are they CIA agents?  The tour preaches that things aren’t always as they seem.

Though they may breed paranoia among conspiracy-theory junkies, both the Spy Museum and the new Spy City tours are worth the time.  They give us common-folk a peek into the secret world of spying, leaving us to question whether that cigar is really just a cigar.

Julia’s Tips:

– On weekends, the International Spy Museum is packed.  Go early to reserve tickets.  For more information on the museum and the new spy city tour visit

Have you been to the Spy Museum? Any other must-see attractions in DC?  Comment below….