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Tips for Surviving Acqua Alta in Venice

Acqua Alta, which literally translates to high water, typically occurs in the winter months in Venice. Due to a combination of the amounts of rain northern Italy receives in winter, strong southerly winds, the tides, and even the movement of the sea, Venice is at risk for flooding when the water rises in the Venetian Lagoon. So what does that mean for tourists visiting La Serenissima? Generally not too much as acqua alta is a way of life, but here are x tips for surviving acqua alta in Venice:

Acqua Alta on January 31, 2014 in St. Mark's Square

Acqua Alta on January 31, 2014 in St. Mark’s Square Source

1. How do I know if Venice is experiencing acqua alta?

If you’re headed to Venice, just like the weather, you can check the acqua alta forecast online. Also check out the webcams at St. Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge to see real-time conditions.

2. Should I pack rain boots?

Generally, there is no need to tote your wellies all the way to Italy. Most of Venice remains dry during acqua alta. Typically the photographs that make the news are taken in and around St. Mark’s Square, the lowest part of the island, because it floods first and also usually has the highest water. You can typically avoid the flooded parts and wait out acqua alta at your hotel or do activities and sightseeing in the dry neighborhoods.

3. Will my suitcase get wet?

It might! Always an advocate of packing in a carry-on size bag, you’ll be glad you packed light when you have to lift and carry that suitcase over your head to reach your hotel in a high water area.

4. Do water buses still operate?

Yes, they sure do! Acqua alta is a way of life in Venice and Venetians go about their business even in high water. It might mean that the route needs to be altered, so just check that the vaporetto will still be stopping at your destination.

5. What about attractions, stores, and restaurants?

It’s typically business as usual for most attractions, stores, and restaurants too. Though some in high water areas may need to close temporarily. If you’re planning to visit an attraction, store, or restaurant in a high water area you can always check with your hotel’s concierge to confirm it is open.

6. Can I still walk around?

Yes, absolutely! Elevated platforms are set out on the main passageways to allow you to walk above the water. Stay to the right when walking.

7. What about when there aren’t platforms? Should I take my shoes off?

Never walk barefoot in acqua alta. Remember that this is water that has washed over the streets and piazzas, sweeping up all the trash with it. You wouldn’t want to step on broken glass or other objects and risk cutting your feet. Not to mention, the water is dirty and full of bacteria.

8. How long does acqua alta last?

Remember, acqua alta is typically caused by the tides. Usually the water starts going down in 3 – 4 hours. In periods of heavy rain, acqua alta can last up to a few days. But that is pretty rare.

9. How often does acqua alta occur?

From 1966 to 2012, water over 110cm occurred on average four times per year and covered about 14% of the island.

Acqua alta is not a dangerous phenomenon. It’s more of an inconvenience, which can mostly be avoided by following these tips!

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter and bases herself in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and innovation strategist in higher education and is a regular contributor on johnnyjet.com. Her website, jdombstravels.com, is the 2012 Destinology Travel Bloggy Best Newcomer award winner. Google+

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  1. Carina

    We were just there in October but didn’t experience this. Does it damage the floors in St. Mark’s? They were far less level than they were the last time I was in the church (about 10 yrs ago). What about the restaurants and other businesses near the piazza? Do they sandbag to prevent water from entering or do they suspend their tables and equipment from the ceiling or something?

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Acqua Alta usually only happens about four times each year. It’s definitely more common in November and December. There are steps and St. Mark’s Basilica is actually a meter higher than St. Mark’s Square, so the water would need to be very, very high for it to flood the inside of the church. Businesses around St. Mark’s do experience water inside. It’s not too much an issue as buildings are built with flooding in mind and electrical outlets and such are high up on the walls.

    [Reply]

  2. Kirsten @ Green Global Travel

    Very helpful tips. Luckily I traveled to Venice in the summer and didn’t have to deal with this!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    It’s really not that frequent and winter is a wonderful time to go to Venice. No crowds – unless you’ve come for Carnevale!

    [Reply]

  3. Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries

    My parents told me about this when they visited Venice years ago. They also mentioned seeing a local man carrying an elder father/uncle on his back along the platforms, now that’s family!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I will say this about Italians – they are the definition of family values. Family is the most important thing and just about everything revolves around family life.

    [Reply]

  4. Heather

    I first learned about this phenomenon a few years ago. I still remember the photos of the men sitting at tables on flooded patios, reading the newspaper as if nothing were wrong! Great tips on how to deal with it!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Yes! Those were some tourists that posed last year during one of the highest acqua altas Venice has seen in recent years. That water was NOT warm, so I deem them crazy!

    [Reply]

  5. Adam P.

    Being in Venice when the streets are flooded is just sad — sad because you feel in a visceral way just how threatened this beautiful city is..But navigating the city is not that challenging, they put up planks and high wooden walkways so people can get around.

    [Reply]

  6. Lori

    Useful tips – though I hope I won’t end up in Venice when this happens!

    [Reply]

  7. Reed

    Great info. Lucky me I came aacross your blog bby accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved it for later!

    [Reply]

  1. Sunday Stories for February 2nd, 2014 - Traveling with MJ

    […] Read original article here: Tips for Surviving Acqua Alta in Venice […]

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