Everything you Might Want to Know About Acqua Alta in Venice

Everything you Might Want to Know About Acqua Alta in Venice

Acqua alta is a common phenomenon and it isn’t much of an inconvenience for tourists, so we thought we’d dispel the myths by putting together a short guide to everything you might want to know about acqua alta.

Most people planning a trip to Venice will do a little research before they get here. It can be a good idea to make a to-do list of Venice’s most exciting and interesting buildings and attractions — perhaps booking a walking tour or a day trip. However, anyone doing their due diligence will discover the term “acqua alta” (which translates to “high water”) and discover that Venice is sometimes prone to citywide floods. Acqua alta is a common phenomenon and it isn’t much of an inconvenience for tourists, so we thought we’d dispel the myths by putting together a short guide to everything you might want to know about acqua alta.

Saint Mark’s Basilica at night, reflected in the acqua alta

What Causes Acqua Alta?

Acqua alta is very different to many other kinds of flooding as it is caused by a range of environmental factors unique to Venice: its position on the Mediterranean Sea, its low sea level, it’s various canals and waterways, strong tides caused by the moon, and a strong Sirocco wind blowing across the Mediterranean Sea. Without the Sirocco and strong tides, there is no acqua alta, so it really is a confluence of environmental conditions.


When Does Acqua Alta Occur?

As acqua alta can only occur during strong tides and a particularly strong Sirocco, it is usually limited to specific times of year. Most acqua altas occur between mid-September and mid-December. However, acqua alta can occur at other times of the year, but this is very rare.

How Long Has Acqua Alta Been Occurring in Venice?

It’s impossible to tell exactly how long acqua alta has been occurring in Venice. However, there are various recorded points in history (often between September and December) when Venice has been flooded. We have very good reason to assume most of these floods were acqua altas, as opposed to flooding due to heavy rain.

The earliest recorded flood in Venice dates back to October 17, 589 AD, which was recorded by Paul the Deacon. This flood occurred in prime acqua alta season, but this flood also coincided with floods from the Po and the Tagliamento rivers, so there’s more to this story that we don’t quite understand. There are also documented acqua altas in 782, 840, 885, and 1102, so we know it’s been happening for a long time without hindering Venice’s development as one of the most powerful and influential cities in Europe.

What is Venice Like During Acqua Alta?

St Mark’s Square during acqua alta

If you’re planning a visit, you probably want to know what Venice is like during acqua alta. The quick answer is that this depends on how high the sea level has risen, and it also depends on where you are in Venice. Sometimes, during a very light acqua alta, the only part of Venice affected is Saint Mark’s Square as it’s the lowest part of Venice. Other times, much of Venice is covered with a few inches of water and the yellow wellies come out of all the stores to sell to tourists. If you want to see Saint Mark’s Square during acqua alta, or any time of year, check out our Saint Marks Extravaganza tour.

One thing you’ll notice is that while acqua alta can be a bit of an inconvenience for the locals, it doesn’t really impact the city as much as you might think. It’s just a part of living in Venice and the locals just get on with their day-to-day lives. None of the tours or tourism activities are called off and all of the restaurants and bars find a way to carry on, business as usual. This isn’t a huge flood or any kind of catastrophe; it’s a slight rise in sea levels for a few days that everyone is used to by now. You won’t be able to run around at top speeds or take a bike through the water, but other than that, the entire city is available to tourists. In fact, many think that the water makes the city more beautiful!

Stunning Views of Venice During Acqua Alta

Venice during acqua alta

As we said, many tourists actually prefer Venice during acqua alta as the water reflects the beautiful buildings and it gives the city a sense of drama that some people find very appealing. Any tourist should bring a camera to Venice — as it’s a photographer’s dream — but it’s particularly magical during acqua alta. If you’d like to see as much of Venice as possible during acqua alta, you might like to book our Venice-in-a-day tour!

That’s all we have time for today. We hope we’ve dispelled a few myths about acqua alta and reassured a few tentative visitors that acqua alta can actually make your visit to Venice even more magical. If you have any questions about our extensive range of Venice tours, please get in touch. Plan your next big adventure today, with Venice Events.