Culture + Style

4 Ways to Play Your Own Spy Games in the Nation’s Capital

With the U.S. Capitol as your backdrop, live out your spy fantasies at some of D.C.’s most intriguing sights like the International Spy Museum and more. (Photo: D. Hurst / Alamy Stock Photo)

You’ve seen the movies. Secret agents racing through D.C. to save the world by cracking codes and passing top secret documents. It’s not all make-believe. In fact, when you are a local in the nation’s capital you walk right by real institutions of international espionage and political intrigue every day. Maybe it’s why you’ve come to Washington, D.C. Go ahead; live out your spy fantasies at these top D.C. spots.

Slip into the Seat of Diplomatic Drama

Imagine a room filled with tuxedoed men and bejeweled women enjoying champagne and soft music. The Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department provide the perfect setting for an evening of intrigue. While you might not nab an invite to meet the French ambassador, you can book a tour of the rooms. In the John Quincy Adams Room, check out the desk Benjamin Franklin used to sign the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolutionary War. In these rooms, President Johnson met with world leaders in the days following the Kennedy assassination.

Find Five-Star Secrets

Just across the Potomac River sits the Pentagon, the world’s largest low-rise building that’s home to the nation’s military leaders. As you take the 60-minute tour through the vast structure, keep your ears open. Who knows what secrets might be revealed? Be sure to take a few minutes to pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial and to the Medal of Honor recipients listed in the Hall of Heroes.

national cryptologic museum
An enigma machine at the National Cryptologic Museum outside Washington, D.C. (Photo: Michael Ventura / Alamy Stock Photo)

Become a Code-Breaker

The National Security Agency, one of the world’s most advanced operations, shares its secret past and a glimpse into the intriguing world of code-breaking at the National Cryptologic Museum in nearby Maryland. Try your hand at decoding messages on an Enigma machine from World War II. Afterward, you can walk to the adjacent National Vigilance Park to see three aircraft used in U.S. spy efforts.

Fascinated with secret codes? For those lucky enough to snag a rare visit to CIA headquarters, the Kryptos sculpture at the entrance contains four brass panels bearing a secret code, much of which remains unbroken.

international spy museum washington dc
You can really play spy games here. (Photo: B Christopher / Alamy Stock Photo)

Undergo Spy Training

Immerse yourself in top-secret operations at the International Spy Museum. See how many spy artifacts you recognize from the James Bond movies exhibit. Visitors can even search for Jaws’ steel teeth from “Moonraker” or Le Chiffre’s platinum inhaler from “Casino Royale.” The International Spy Museum also has cool spy gadgets like lipstick pistols and eyeglasses with cyanide capsules.

Sign up for Operation Spy, an immersive interactive exhibit, to embark upon a real spy adventure. In the fictional world of Khandar amid political unrest, you wander through back alleys in search of contacts. All you need to do is decrypt secret audio conversations, escape from a high-security compound and interrogate suspects while evading capture.

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