For a Fee, Museums Let You Play Roles of Spy, Newshound or Criminal

Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:13am

Washington, D.C., is heaven for museum lovers. For everyone else, it’s tempting to focus on the plethora of museums that are free and well-known, such as the Smithsonians. Yet the city also boasts a number of institutions whose admission fees obscure the treasures inside. We’ll explore some of the pricier halls of history.

International Spy Museum

The Spy Museum is one of the District’s best attractions for families, allowing children and adults alike to choose their own undercover identity at the top of the tour. As they walk through the building, ending up at the gift shop on the bottom floor, visitors will learn about spy craft, including how to pick a lock and how to put together a disguise.

The museum is unique in that it covers global espionage, not just that of a single country, as well as the portrayal of spies in movies and literature. A highlight is a model of the Aston Martin DB5 featured in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.

Capitol Hill Map — Goods, Services and More

A cafe, restaurant and gift shop are attached to the museum.

The museum is at 800 F St. NW, closest to the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stop. Cost is $18 for adults, $17 for seniors older than 65, $15 for children 5-11 or free for children younger than 5.


The Newseum opened to the public in April. It regularly hosts TV and radio tapings, some of which are open to the public. The spacious new facility has drawn a wide range of other events, too, including the D.C. premiere of “The Secret Life of Bees” and a naturalization ceremony.

At the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest, the Newseum is easy to spot, boasting an enormous marble engraving of the First Amendment on the outside wall. Visitors can explore seven levels with exhibits focusing on eras in the news, such as the attacks of Sept. 11 and presidential campaigns, and specific areas of news coverage, such as sports and photojournalism.

The Newseum houses the Freedom Forum, as well as its Diversity Institute and First Amendment Center. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, the Source, is located on the Sixth Street side, and a food court is in the basement.

The Newseum is at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, nearest to the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro stop. $20 for adults; $18 for seniors older than 65, members of the military and students with an ID; $13 for children 7-18; or free for children 6 and younger.

National Museum of Crime & Punishment

John Walsh, the host of “America’s Most Wanted,” is the face and co-founder of this museum. When it’s not on location, his show tapes in the museum, which opened six months ago. The studio also serves as an exhibit where visitors can learn about the unsolved 1981 murder of his young son, which led Walsh to become an anti-crime activist.

The studio isn’t the museum’s only interactive exhibit. Visitors can try hacking into a computer or breaking into a safe and can practice in a shooting gallery. They can act as a crime scene investigator in a lab solving a murder and take a lie detector test.

Visitors can get mementos at the Cop Shop in the museum.

Walking distance from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stop, the museum is at 575 Seventh St. NW. Cost is $17.95 for adults, $14.95 for children younger than 12 and seniors older than 60, or free for children 5 and younger.

Madame Tussauds

For less than $20, you can snap your photo with President-elect Obama or President Bush at Madame Tussauds wax museum. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are also there, as is former President Ronald Reagan.

Those who prefer to limit their interactions with political figures will still appreciate the likenesses of actors such as Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and sports stars such as Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali. Younger visitors will enjoy the new figures of the Jonas Brothers, the trio of teenage pop singers, but more experienced musical aficionados will like to see Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, whose place in D.C. jazz history makes him right at home.

Madame Tussauds is at 1025 F St. NW, near the Metro Center stop. Until the year ends visitors can take advantage of the museum’s Election Day promotion, which reduces tickets to $10 for adults, $8 for children 4-12 and free for children 3 and younger.

President Lincoln’s Cottage

President Abraham Lincoln’s retreat on the campus of the Armed Forces Retirement Home opened to the public on Presidents Day this year. Former President Bill Clinton first designated the home and the surrounding 2.3 acres as a national monument in 2000.

Lincoln stayed at the cottage from June to December in 1862 through 1864, commuting to the White House by 8 a.m. daily. He often paced the property unattended when he was worrying over the Civil War, and he was staying at the cottage during the months that he developed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Adjacent to the cottage is the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, where guests can watch an introduction to the site and see interactive displays about Soldiers’ Home and Lincoln’s presidency.

The cottage is at Eagle Gate at the intersection of Rock Creek Church Road and Upshur Street Northwest, near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro stop. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children 6-12.