What you need to know about "acqua alta" (Venice flooding)

Spazzini collect garbage during acqua alta in Venice

ABOVE: Spazzini, or sanitation workers, pick up household trash in the Calle dei Albanesi during an acqua alta flood tide in Venice.

In the wake of the November, 2019 flooding in Venice, we thought it would be helpful to draw your attention to our acqua alta resources here and at our main travel-planning site, Veniceforvisitors.com:

Acqua Alta
This illustrated article at Venice for Visitors tells what acqua alta or "high water" is and how to prepare for it if you're going to Venice from mid-autumn through early spring.

Venice Travel Blog: Flooding
Our acqua alta index page links to a number of posts about Venice tidal flooding (including this one), featuring such topics as tidal warning sirens and forecasting apps for your iPhone or Android smartphone.

Important things to know:

  • Acqua alta is an abnormally high tide that occurs under certain weather conditions--e.g., when atmospheric pressures are low and winds from the south push water northward in the Adriatic Sea.

  • Acqua alta tends to occur seasonally (mostly from October until March or April), and it typically lasts only a few hours at a time. Just as important, it normally affects only lower-lying areas of the city (such as the Piazza San Marco, where water can seep up through the drains even in midsummer). You should not let fear of acqua alta discourage you from visiting Venice.

  • If you're visiting Venice from fall through spring, don't book ground-floor accommodation. (This isn't likely to be an issue in hotels, where rooms are usually on upper floors, but short-term apartment rentals at street level can be risky.)

  • When acqua alta does occur,  avoid frolicking in the water. Flood tides are a costly nuisance to the locals, and splashing around, kicking up water in the streets, or stripping down and swimming in front of the Basilica di San Marco isn't likely to win you any Venetian friends.

BELOW: Cheryl Imboden points to a marker on the Hotel Cavaletto & Doge Orseolo that commemorates the worst acqua alta tide in Venice's history, which occurred in November, 1966.

Marker at Hotel Cavaletto showing highest-ever flood level in Venice (1966)

Acqua alta strikes again

Acqua alta, or high water, occurs in Venice when a high tide coincides with a drop in barometric pressure, often in combination with a scirocco wind that pushes water toward the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. The sea's water level rises, and the excess water is forced into the Venetian Lagoon at high tide, flooding low-lying areas of Venice for several hours until the high tide recedes.

The main acqua alta season is from October to April, and the flood tides are especially common in late fall. Today, the high water was fairly moderate--about 100 cm above the official zero mark--but it was high enough to inundate the Piazza San Marco, which is prone to tidal flooding. Cheryl took these photos, which show how life goes on for Venetians and tourists even when the streets are filled with water:


ABOVE: By noon, the Piazza San Marco was flooded, and its café tables had been abandoned.


ABOVE: Unprepared tourists quickly bought disposable plastic boots from souvenir shops or street vendors, unless they chose to follow this man's example and treat the Piazza as a wading pool.


ABOVE: This man learned the limitations of wheeled suitcases in a city where streets and squares can turn into ponds.


ABOVE: The Piazza's arches provided shelter from the rain, but wheelchairs became amphibious vehicles.


ABOVE: A seagull enjoyed a peaceful bath in the uncrowded square.


ABOVE: In the meantime, tourists and locals were climbing onto the passerelle, or temporary walkways, that municipal workers had set up in front of the Basilica di San Marco.


ABOVE: Today, the maximum water level was well below the temporary walkways, but in more extreme cases of acqua alta, the passerelle can be submerged by the tide for an hour or two.


ABOVE: This mother and her toddler were protected from the tide and rain by disposable boots, a polyethylene poncho, and a plastic rain cape for the stroller.


ABOVE: The passerelle ended in a series of stepped platforms on higher ground.


ABOVE: While less fortunate folk braved the elements, well-heeled residents and tourists took refuge in the Piazza San Marco's expensive cafés. In this photo, an employee of Lavena (on the north side of the square) talked to a customer across a temporary steel floodgate.


ABOVE: Cheryl switched into paparazzi mode and followed the café employee to a nearby shop, where he purchased several pairs of disposable plastic boots.


ABOVE: Moments later, the man delivered four pairs of plastic boots to the café guest.


ABOVE: As tourists frolicked in and around the flooded Piazza, everday life went on for these deliverymen.


ABOVE: For shopkeepers, acqua alta was both a nuisance and a sales opportunity.


ABOVE: Acqua alta also hit other areas of the city in varying degrees. At this restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge, the waxing and waning of the waters weren't enough to spoil an alfresco lunch.

Related article:

For more information on tidal flooding in Venice (including forecasts on your computer or mobile phone), see our Acqua Alta article at Veniceforvisitors.com.

Goldon boots keep feet dry during 'acqua alta'

Goldon boots in Piazza San Marco

ABOVE: A man and a woman model Goldon plastic boots in Venice's Piazza San Marco during acqua alta.

From roughly October through April (and, increasingly, at other times of the year), low-lying neighborhoods in Venice's historic center may be flooded for several hours at a time by storm tides called "acqua alta" or "high water."

Although municipal workers set out passerelle or raised wooden walkways in critical locations during acqua alta, there are times when the only way to get around is to go wading. Venetians wear rubber boots (which are available in local hardware stores and other shops), but tourists who don't want to lug a pair of heavy rubber wellies home often settle for inexpensive plastic overshoes. The leading manufacturer of such overshoes is Goldon, and you can buy Goldon's boots from street vendors, souvenir shops, and other local merchants when acqua alta threatens.

Goldon's boots come in three sizes, weigh only 350 grams, and are packed in a small plastic pouch that easily fits into a travel tote or suitcase. The manufacturer's Web site offers the boots for 9,60 euros (yellow) or 10 euros (white or black) for delivery to postal addresses in Italy. If you live abroad, you'll need to buy the boots after you arrive in Venice, but the Goldon Web site is worth visiting so you'll know what to look for.

  • Tip: Some shoes are bulkier than their size might suggest, so if you're wearing clunky shoes at the upper end of a size range, you might want to go a size larger. And if your shoes are bigger than 46 (European) or 12 (U.S.), you may need to try a popular Venetian workaround: wrapping your feet and legs in plastic garbage bags.

For more information in English, visit the Goldon Web site.

To learn more about acqua alta (including the city's warning sirens and acqua alta forecasts), read our illustrated Acqua Alta article at Veniceforvisitors.com. 

BELOW: When walking in Venice's floodwaters, stay away from the edges of canals. AT BOTTOM: A poster for Goldon plastic overshoes.

Acqua Alta and Goldon Boots

Goldon poster

Photos: Goldon