World's top 10 spy and cold war museums

INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM, WASHINGTON DC, US

Engaging and illuminating, the museum features archival videos, photographs and a satisfying collection of hardware – buttonhole cameras, a KGB lipstick pistol, a poison-tipped umbrella of the type Bulgarian agents used to assassinate dissident Georgi Markov in London and a replica of the Aston Martin DB5 featured in the James Bond Goldfinger flick. One of the stars is an Enigma machine, the cipher device used by the German military during World War II. "Cracked" by the Allies, the decoded messages contributed substantially to their victory. See spymuseum.org

STASI MUSEUM, BERLIN GERMANY

HTHE93 STASI listening station on display at DDR Museum, showing life in former East Germany, in Mitte Berlin, Germany str27-trav10spy Traveller 10 10 Top Spy and Cold War Museums

Photo: Alamy

The Stasi were the feared secret police who kept a close watch on the citizens of East Germany to ensure the survival of the brutal and repressive dictatorship that ruled the country during the Cold War. Housed in the former offices of the Ministry for State Security, the apparatus of compliance has been preserved in all its chilling detail, including details of surveillance tactics and devices and a vast collection of personal files, the fruits of East Germany's spy machinery. See stasimuseum.de

KGB MUSEUM, PRAGUE CZECH REPUBLIC

This privately-owned collection operates out of a small set of rooms but it punches well above its modest size. Admission is by pre-arranged tour only, and visitors are conducted around the museum by an enthusiastic and passionate Russian who encourages hands-on interaction with the weapons, spy cameras and interrogation devices used in Czechoslovakia as elsewhere once ruled by the Soviet boot. Highlights include Lenin's death mask, the ice pick supposedly used to murder Trotsky and the radio of Beria, the predatory puppet master of the Soviet state. See kgbmuseum.com/en/

NATIONAL CRYPTOLOGIC MUSEUM, FORT MEADE US

The US National Security Agency is responsible for gathering and processing information on people and activities that pose a potential threat to the United States, and this fascinating museum charts its work over the decades. With computers and telecommunications equipment, the museum reveals the behind-the-scenes work underpinning the security we take for granted. It's the complete antithesis of James Bond sexiness, but then if they told you the whole story, they'd have to – well, you know. See  [nsa.gov]

BLETCHLEY PARK, BLETCHLEY, MILTON KEYNES, UK

JFGK90 England, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park, The Mansion, Recreation of WWII Operations Room str27-trav10spy Traveller 10 10 Top Spy and Cold War Museums

Photo: Alamy

One of the most famous names in the spy business, it was at this manor house that codebreakers carried out the grunt work of breaking coded messages sent via Germany's Enigma machines. Great pains have been taken to show the operation exactly as it was when the vital codebusting business was going on, with interactive wizardry to enhance the realism. A highlight for mathematical geeks, the displays include a working rebuilt Bombe machine, which unravelled the settings being used each day by the Germans. See  bletchleypark.org.uk

THE COLD WAR MUSEUM, WARRENTON US

THE COLD WAR MUSEUM, WARRENTON USA str27-trav10spy

Housed in a former US Army Security Agency Field Station used by the CIA, this museum offers an I-spy view of some of the events that dominated word headlines during the Cold War, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Exhibits include a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile deployed to Cuba during the missile crisis and US Nike missiles. The museum was founded by Francis Gary Powers jnr, son of the pilot shot down in a U-2 spy plane during a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union. See coldwar.org

THE CORNER HOUSE, RIGA LATVIA

Latvia was once a Soviet puppet state that operated under the watchful eye of the KGB, Moscow's secret police, and their HQ in the capital of Riga was this former apartment building, still a potent symbol of occupation. Here, opponents of the regime were interrogated, tortured and executed and the offices and cells have been preserved in all their shabby and chilling detail to tell the story of life under Soviet rule. See kgbbuilding.lv

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MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL REPRESSION, TOMSK RUSSIA

Within what was once a secret prison operated by the Soviet Union's NKVD in this Siberian city, this is a backstage look at the enforcement measures required to operate a repressive totalitarian regime. In warts-and-all style, the museum's exhibits include restored and reconstructed cells for political prisoners, interrogation rooms, photographs of prisoners and lists of those exiled or executed. The commentary is in Russian but an English-language tour is available. See  nkvd.tomsk.ru

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE MUSEUM, SHEFFORD UK

Located in a gated, operational military barracks and run by a small team of enthusiasts, this museum burrows into the work of military intelligence, one of the least-known chapters of the spy game. There's a collection of aerial photography stretching back to World War I, a display dedicated to "BRIXMIS", a shadowy intelligence-gathering mission that operated in East Germany during the Cold War and the work of the Special Operations Executive, which conducted acts of sabotage behind enemy lines in World War II. See  militaryintelligencemuseum.org

GERMAN SPY MUSEUM, BERLIN GERMANY

JYH0F2 Berlin, Germany. 19th Aug, 2017. A visitor to the German Spy Museum tries to make their way through a laser obstacle course during the 'Long night of museums' in Berlin, Germany, 19 August 2017. Photo: Gregor Fischer/dpa/Alamy Live News str27-trav10spy Traveller 10 10 Top Spy and Cold War Museums

Photo: Alamy

This is pure entertainment, a collection of the gadgets and techniques used by the world's second oldest profession over the ages. There's a whole room devoted to James Bond, a password cracker, interactive touch-screens and images that document the work of espionage in the city once at the frontline of the Cold War. Highlight is the laser maze where visitors test their acrobatic skills, as in Oceans Twelve. See  deutsches-spionagemuseum.de

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