The National Cryptologic Museum

If you’re expecting a cool espionage museum, be prepared for disappointment. Even though this is a NSA facility, it makes being a spy look pretty boring!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Being a spy is supposed to be cool. If it’s not tuxedos, cocktails and casinos, then it should at least be safehouses, martial arts and a mysterious bank account in Switzerland.

Surely being a spy means having a secret cabinet of weapons and gadgets hidden behind your bookshelf at home, a special entrance to your office through a phone booth, or at least the apparent ability to never have a hangover despite the amount you drink.

If being a spy is supposed to be so cool, then why is the National Cryptologic Museum at America’s National Security Agency (NSA) so boring?

I mean, seriously, these guys are the pin-ups of the espionage community?

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

When I say it’s ‘boring’, I don’t mean that it’s not ‘interesting’.

It has lots of facts… and history… and exhibits… and, y’know, stuff. But it’s not ‘cool’.

Somehow the only museum in the United States that’s run by the intelligence community thought that visitors are so intelligent that they’ll enjoy a building full of code-breaking machines.

Well, I’m sorry Agent X, Y did U think that would B the case?

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

The first warning bell should have been the name: The National Cryptologic Museum.

I supposed it manages expectations much better than calling it The Really Awesome Spy Museum Where You’ll See Heaps Of Cool Things You’ve Always Wanted To Know More About.

Unless, that is, you’re interested in the history of codes during war time.

The museum has an impressive collection of code-making and code-breaking machines through numerous wars including World War II, The Cold War and the Vietnam War.

The cipher machines captured from the Germans and the Japanese are displayed most proudly.

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

There are examples of the simple codes used before technology, the computer databases which have stored information in the NSA over the decades, and the evolution of the technology to secure telephone calls (including the model of phone on which George W Bush was told about the September 11 attacks).

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA
Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

On displays on the walls, the stories are told of the great cryptographers who broke the codes of America’s enemies. Even here, there is no coolness, no suave spies, no X-factor.

The tales aren’t told as if the protagonists were great heroes in an epic mental battle against the forces of evil.

These guys were just linguists or mathematicians who, although presumably quite brilliant, sat in a room and crunched letters and numbers for months at a time between breakthroughs.

There’s no mention of whether they enjoyed the occasional martini during the process.

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

For those who are students of codes (is there such a thing?), the library at the museum would provide a very useful resource. Thousands of unclassified and declassified documents from the National Security Agency can be read and even photocopied.

There are books going back hundreds of years, which trace the history of cryptology across several continents.

There is certainly a lot of information available for those with a keen interest.

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

The National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade in Maryland is the public face of a highly secretive organisation and world of espionage that remains a mystery to most people.

Perhaps it is sensible not to encourage too much interest from regular civilians.

Still, if this is the life of a spy, thank goodness Hollywood has a big imagination.

Visiting the National Cryptologic Museum

For somewhere that is part of a highly secretive and secure institution, it’s actually very easy to visit the National Cryptologic Museum.

There’s no entrance fee and no need to make a reservation. You can just turn up during opening hours and look around.

Can you visit the NSA? National Cryptologic Museum, Maryland, USA

There are guided tours that can be arranged for groups of six or more. You’ll need to book a tour in advance and choose from one of these options:

  • American Cryptologic History Tour: It presents the role, people, and machines of America’s cryptologic history through unique artefacts and stories (60 – 90 minutes).
  • Women in Cryptology Tour: It focuses on the role of women in America’s cryptologic history from the American Revolution through to today’s cybersecurity (60 minutes).
  • Advancing Technology Tour: It illustrates through the exhibits and artefacts the intertwined relationship between cryptologic and technologic advances (60 minutes).

The site is accessible for wheelchairs and people with mobility issues.

Where is National Cryptologic Museum?

The National Cryptologic Museum can be found in Baltimore near the NSA and along Colony Seven RD.
The official address is 8290 Colony Seven Rd, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701, United States. You can find it on a map here.

How do you get to National Cryptologic Museum?

By car, Take the B/W Parkway (Rt. 295) South towards Washington (if you’re coming from Baltimore) or North towards Baltimore (if you’re coming from Washington DC. Exit at Rt. 32, heading towards Ft. Meade.
There is plenty of parking at the museum.

When is the National Cryptologic Museum open?

The National Cryptologic Museum is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 – 16:00 and closed on Sundays and Federal Holidays.

What is the National Cryptologic Museum entrance fee?

The National Cryptologic Museum is free of charge to the general public.

You can see more information on the official website of the National Cryptologic Museum.

There’s not much else near the museum. If you’re interested in the topic, though, there are a couple of other places not too far away that I found really interesting – the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Silver Spring and the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

And if you’re looking for something to eat near the National Cryptologic Museum, have a look at Notch 8 Brewery or Fiero Mexican Grill for some easy meals.

26 thoughts on “The National Cryptologic Museum”

    • I haven’t been to the Spy Museum so I can’t really compare them. This is the only one actually run by an intelligence organisation, so I guess that limits what they can show a bit.

  1. So glad that technology has made being a spy cool again. Back in the old days, not as much fun with the machines and stuff they had. However, James Bond made being a spy pretty cool back in the old days 🙂

  2. I feel your disappointment! I hope you had a martini after the visit, just to make up for the Bondlessness …Although I have to say I think the guys in the picture look AWESOME!!! So anyway, it seems to be a very interesting place, like you said -I’ve been intrigued by code-breaking since I watched “All the Queen’s men” (2001), although it’s not about the actual code-breaking, but about stealing an enigma… or something. Guys in drag, can’t go wrong with that. …I am digressing again, am I not. Oh well… Good post -and for the record: I still got some spy-vibes!

  3. I guess it’s really for those who have tremendous amount of homework regarding the history of being a spy where you need to research extensively and take down notes. Well, really thanks to Hollywood. If James Bond was this ‘boring’, then he wouldn’t have those lovely girls on his side..all the time. 🙂

  4. I reckon they make it seem boring so that folks aren’t too interested. There’s a real spy museum somewhere else, for real spies, with invisible cars and jetpacks and bikini clad women handing out Martinis. Now that’s the one to find and write about!

  5. eheh did you really think it was like in Alias? 😉 I find all this spy stories and stuff so ridiculous. Why would a country have enemies? I mean, I do know America has enemies, just wondering why, really, the “they are jealous of us because we wear mini-skirts” story I don’t think still stands…

  6. This place seems so serious and yeah, a little drab. In DC proper we went to the Spy Museum and it was filled with more flash and glamor…but was like a disney-fied version of Spying. I think I’d prefer this one here, at least it’s ‘real’. Cool post, thanks for making me aware of it – I’m a geek for stuff about surveillance and spying (Dani loves me in spite of, not because of, this little fascination of mine! ).

    • It sounds like I should have gone to the DC Spy Museum now. I like the Hollywood side of it all. But you’re right, this one definitely felt authentic and id give a good insight into what the NSA does.

  7. I’m coming to this conversation late, Turtle. Didn’t see this post before. Anyway… just to establish my geek credentials (not that you’ve ever been in any doubt!) I don’t think that Enigma machine is quite the real deal. It’s a 3-rotor machine, which suggests it’s not one captured from the German military, but one of the early models created by the German banking industry before the war, which the military then adopted and enhanced into a five-rotor version. …… cough…. just thought I’d mention it…. 😉

    • Hmmm… I would certainly never disagree with your geekiness… 🙂
      What I do know is that the museum definitely has a copy of a working German Enigma machine fron WWII. What I can’t remember all these years on is whether that the one in the photo or whether I took a shot of an earlier model. Sorry about that… perhaps we can agree to both be right? 🙂


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