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Venice, the floating city with its labyrinth of canals, ornate bridges, and rich history, has long captivated the hearts of travelers.
Yet, between October and January, there is a phenomenon known as acqua alta, or the Venice flooding season, a seasonal high tide that transforms Venice into a surreal waterworld. In some ways, this is the best time to visit Venice, but for some, it may be the worst time to come.
While this may seem like a deterrent, with the right preparation and understanding, you can navigate Venice’s flood season with ease and create unforgettable memories. After all, the flooding only lasts a few hours and is only in a few areas of the city which can easily be avoided.
Acqua alta in Venice is caused by factors such as high tides, climate change, and the city’s sinking foundation, typically peaking from October to January
Visitors can navigate Venice during acqua alta by using raised walkways, adjusting to boat transport changes, and employing tools for finding alternative routes
Dress for the season by packing rubber boots and waterproofparkas
Understanding Venice’s Flooding Phenomenon
Venice’s flooding, or acqua alta, is a natural occurrence brought about by a combination of factors including high tides, climate change, strong sirocco winds, and the city’s sinking foundation. This phenomenon, which brings unusually high waters to the Venetian Lagoon, impacts both locals and tourists, turning the city into a waterlogged version of itself.
As you traverse Venice’s picturesque canals and squares, you may notice that certain areas, such as the iconic Piazza San Marco, are particularly prone to Venice floods, giving you a unique perspective of this beloved city.
Also, it should be noted that Venice, often referred to as the sinking city, continues to combat the rising sea level due to global warming. As a result, Venice’s relationship with the shallow Adriatic Sea is complex, and acqua alta occurs, becoming an integral part of daily life, altering the city’s landscape and the way both locals and tourists navigate it.
Despite these challenges, the spirit of Venice remains unbroken, and the city continues to enchant visitors year after year.
When to Expect Acqua Alta
If you’re planning to visit Venice, it’s helpful to know when to expect acqua alta. Typically, this phenomenon peaks between October and January, with extreme flooding more likely during these months.
The ‘acqua alta’ or high tide in Venice happens more in fall and winter. You might see it in early spring, but it’s rare in summer. If you’re in Venice in November or December, this is when you’re more likely to experience the high tide.
It usually happens in the middle of the day, with the peak from about 11 am to 2 pm, and then again late at night, after 11 pm. In the past, unusually high tides over 110 centimeters didn’t happen much, but they’ve been happening more in the last 50 to 60 years.
The floods are not nearly as severe as in the past due to the Mosè system, which is a series of floats that block the tides from entering the lagoon.
But, don’t let the possibility of flooding discourage you from enjoying the distinct charm of Venice. Thanks to modern technology, you can keep updated on the timing of acqua alta. Listen for sirens across the island, check the forecast on Venice’s official website, or seek the latest information from your hotel.
This way, you can be prepared for an unusually high tide during your stay and plan your activities accordingly. If you’re planning a day trip outside of Venice, then timing it to the high tide peak may be a good idea so you can avoid the worst of it.
Navigating Venice During Floods
Traveling in Venice during acqua alta may sound challenging, but with a few modifications, you can navigate the city with relative ease. It all comes down to understanding the city’s coping mechanisms – elevated walkways, boat transportation adjustments, and knowing alternative routes to avoid flooded areas.
Elevated walkways, or passarelle, are a common sight in Venice during acqua alta. These temporary structures aid pedestrian movement in flooded areas by providing a pathway above the water. These walkways are designed to withstand the effects of the Adriatic Sea during high tides.
Strategically placed in the lowest areas of the city that are susceptible to flooding, these walkways are especially helpful in areas like Mark’s Square, also known as Piazza San Marco.
As a tourist, you are encouraged to use these walkways responsibly. Walk on the right-hand side to prevent obstructing the path, ensuring a seamless flow for everyone. Wearing Wellington boots can also help you navigate flooded areas more comfortably.
Boat transportation is another essential element in navigating Venice during floods. Gondolas and Vaporettos, the traditional Venetian watercraft, are frequently utilized during periods of flooding. These boats are designed to navigate the waters of the Adriatic Sea, even during high tide levels.
However, routes may be changed to avoid low bridges and flooded areas, guaranteeing safe passage for passengers. It’s worth noting that boat services, especially the route from Rialto to Ferrovia-Piazzale Roma, remain operational without schedule modifications, ensuring continued connectivity even during acqua alta. You can check the routes here when there is acqua alta.
Getting to know alternative routes is another important aspect of getting around Venice during acqua alta. By keeping abreast of tide timings and potential flood areas, you can avoid being stranded or inconvenienced during floods.
Several tools are available to aid in identifying alternative routes during floods, including the ‘Venice Flood Prediction’ app and Google Maps. These tools offer real-time routing information, helping you access attractions even during high tides.
Preparing for Your Trip to Venice During Acqua Alta
A bit of preparation can significantly contribute to a comfortable and enjoyable trip to Venice during the flooding season. This includes packing appropriate clothing, waterproof essentials, and health and safety items.
Clothing and Footwear
When packing for Venice’s flooding season, suitable clothing and footwear should be at the top of your list. While rain boots are not essential, they can prove beneficial during periods of high tide. Water shoes or sandals are another suitable option for walking in waterlogged areas.
As for clothing, here are some recommendations for rainy and flooding conditions:
Opt for a lightweight, waterproof raincoat with a lining for additional warmth
Choose a raincoat with a hood that fully covers the head and has adjustable hoods equipped with a drawstring for enhanced protection.
Besides suitable clothing, packing waterproof essentials is also important during Venice’s flooding season. These include waterproof bags, phone cases, and camera covers to protect your belongings from water damage.
There are many highly-rated waterproof bags available, such as the Atoll Overkill and the YETI Sidekick, which are perfect for keeping your belongings dry. As for protecting your electronic devices, the Kona Submariner is a universal waterproof phone case compatible with a range of phone models.
For your camera, consider waterproof covers like the Think Tank Hydrophobia V3 or the LensCoat RainCoat RS. These covers are effective in preventing water infiltration and safeguarding electronic devices from water damage during high tides.
Experiencing Venice’s Attractions Amidst High Tides
Despite the high tide conditions, Venice’s attractions can still be enjoyed. Many of the city’s cultural and historical sites remain accessible, even during periods of flooding. This means that even with the waters rising, you can still:
Marvel at the majestic St. Mark’s Square
Take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal
Admire the view from the Rialto Bridge
Furthermore, seasonal high tides can enhance your experience by offering a unique perspective, especially during a very high tide. For example, you can partake in guided kayak tours, offering a distinctive way to navigate the city’s narrow canals.
Make a point to visit the bookstore named after the phenomenon. The Libreria Acqua Alta is named that way because it often floods which is why the bookshelves are stored on bathtubs and gondolas. Check out my full article about it as you don’t want to miss it when planning your next trip to Venice.
Supporting Venice’s Conservation Efforts
While navigating through Venice during acqua alta, keep in mind that the city is in a constant struggle with its rising waters. Organizations like the World Monuments Fund and Save Venice are at the forefront of the city’s conservation efforts, working tirelessly to preserve its architectural treasures.
As a visitor, you too can play a role in supporting these efforts. By donating to organizations such as Venice in Peril, you can help fund projects aimed at safeguarding Venice’s cultural heritage and mitigating the impact of flooding on its spaces. These projects not only help preserve the city’s monuments but also contribute to the larger effort of protecting Venice against rising sea levels.
Adapting to Life in Venice During Acqua Alta
Living in Venice during acqua alta presents its own set of challenges. From navigating flooded streets to dealing with the economic impact of unexpected floods, locals have to constantly adapt their daily routines.
However, the spirit of the Venetians is resilient. Essential services such as ambulances and garbage collection continue to operate, while residents elevate their furniture, use waterproof boots, and adjust their habits to cope with the water.
As a visitor, it’s highly important to respect the local spaces and practices during your stay. This includes using passarelle responsibly, adhering to local customs, and acknowledging the cultural importance of Venice. Remember, you are not just a visitor, but a part of Venice’s vibrant tapestry during your stay.
Wrapping It Up
Visiting Venice during acqua alta is not just about bracing for the tides, but about embracing the city in all its unique charm and resilience. It’s about understanding the challenges faced by the city, adapting to its changing rhythms, respecting local practices, and contributing to its preservation efforts. With the right preparation, you can navigate Venice with ease, make unforgettable memories, and leave with a deeper appreciation for this remarkable city.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I visit Venice to avoid flooding?
To avoid flooding, it’s best to visit Venice during mid-year, particularly in the summer months. November is prone to Venice’s famous yearly floods and reduced tourist options.
How do you know if Venice is flooded?
You can check real-time flood information for Venice on the web or through smartphone apps. To monitor tide levels, refer to the daily forecasts from the city’s tide monitoring and forecast center.
Is it safe to visit Venice when it is flooding?
Venice is used to these events and is as prepared as you can get. Venice is perfectly safe to visit during acqua alta. You should still be careful since it can be hard to identify where the canals begin so watch your step if you are walking through the water. Use the passarelle to be sure.