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Kids & The Durham Museum’s ‘Top Secret’ Exhibit

We’re at the Durham Museum often because it’s a fun place to take kids (here’s my guide for bringing kids to the Durham Museum). Every new temporary exhibit is a great excuse to return. This summer, there’s an exhibit unlike any other we’ve seen called “Top Secret: License to Spy.”

I was invited to check out the exhibit with my kids so I can report back to you about the experience.

Durham Museum Top Spy 1

Think you have what it takes to be a secret agent? Head to the Durham Museum this summer and visit “Top Secret: License to Spy.”

Wondering if “Top Secret” is kid-friendly?

Wondering if a family can easily solve the case?

Read on!


The Concept Behind “Top Secret: License to Spy”

Top Secret at Durham Museum

Spy gadgets! This room’s challenge was tough for my little ones (you had to find the four hidden cameras). Photo courtesy Durham Museum

The concept of this summer exhibit is brilliant: Visitors take on the role as spies, and as you move through the exhibit, you use different spy equipment or techniques to gather clues to solve the case. You’re supposed to figure out who stole the most powerful computer chip in the world and why.

When you complete the mission, you go to the final stop, the Debriefing Room, to see if you were right.


Into the exhibit

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Instructions for one of the areas in the “Top Secret” exhibit at The Durham. In case you were wondering, it’s a lot harder than it looks to spy on someone with a laser listener.

“Top Secret: License to Spy” sounds like a fun exhibit for families, and it is, but it’s not for all ages. Why? Little ones who can’t read or who get spooked by dim lighting may not enjoy it as much as older kids.

My 5-year-old was easily frustrated with challenges and started to get anxious at every turn. Perhaps it seemed too real for her?

She most definitely did not like the looks of the laser room. Even when I showed her how to do it, she refused to go in there thinking they were real lasers (full disclosure: It was more like I showed her how not to do it. I’m not flexible at all).

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In “Top Secret” at the Durham Museum, you can pretend to be a spy and try to make your way through a room of lasers. Photo courtesy the Durham Museum

My 7-year-old wanted to try everything in this exhibit. Sometimes he needed my help or subtle nudge on noticing a clue; other times, he was on it. I think the older the kid, the more they’re going to love this.

Just based on my observation, it looked like the Code Room was the most popular area in the entire exhibit. It was packed when we went in. There are several codes to break in that one room, and each provide a little clue to who the suspect is.

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Every kid visiting the exhibit seemed to want to be in the Code Room at the same time. It’s understandable, these codes were fun to try to crack.

The most popular area in the exhibit for my family didn’t actually help us solve the case, but it did help us craft some awesome disguises.

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My son’s spy disguise is top notch.

By the way, I totally solved the case. I’d make an excellent secret agent.

For the little ones

“Top Secret: License to Spy” can be a little challenging for youngsters, so there are a few activities that are more of their speed. Plan your visit to be around 10:30 a.m. on the second or fourth Wednesday of the month (June-August), and your little one can enjoy Top Secret For Tots. The program includes a story and craft, and it’s included with museum admission.

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Pick up a scavenger hunt from the information desk in the Durham Museum lobby, then see if you can find the clues.

There’s also a fun scavenger hunt going on this summer. Pick up a sheet and pencil at the welcome desk to get started. The hunt will lead you through some of the permanent exhibits to search for clues.

This one was more of my kids’ speed and they knew the exhibits we needed to go to based on the clues. I had to help decipher the code.

Once finished, the kids returned their sheet to the welcome desk to get their surprise.

If you go

“Top Secret: License to Spy”

Where: The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.

When: Now through Sept. 17, 2017; during regular museum hours

Special events: There are special programs planned through the exhibit’s run. Visit this page to learn more.



Disclosure: I was provided complimentary admission to the museum so I could review this exhibit. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

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Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

So, Durham Museum was on our list of places to visit already during our vacation, but now it is even more of a must see. Our six year old is going to love the Top Secret exhibit!


Wednesday 14th of June 2017

Val, you'll have so much fun! Six is a good age to visit the Durham Museum.

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