Europe Italy Travel Venice

Venice under Acqua Alta

Venice was overflowing. A sea of tourists packed every vaporetto, fondamente and laneway around St Mark’s square making it difficult to move. Reaching Piazza San Marco was an exercise in patience. Blocks of awe-struck tourists shuffled en masse then came to a halt as no one could advance any further. The piazza was under Acqua Alta.

Venice Acqua Alta

The natural phenomenon of rising waters is a common occurrence in Venice during the autumn and winter months. High tides cause the lagoon waters to rise above normal sea levels, flooding the lower parts of the city. Depending on the level of water, sirens are sounded in advance to warn people of the impending flood. People traverse waterlogged areas by way of thin planks raised on iron supports.

Venice Acqua Alta

Seduced by the nostalgia of black and white images of a flooded Venice, I always hoped to experience Acqua Alta in my lifetime. But the reality was a little different.

Venice Acqua Alta

The city of narrow canals and passageways that doubles its population daily with the influx of day visitors forcibly slows down. Yet there is nothing serene about La Serenissima. Locals don their thigh-high gumboots and go about their daily lives, unperturbed by the high waters. People become impatient and want to reach their destination in a hurry. Tourists walk the plank then stop midway for a photograph. Businesses continue to be conducted. Workers with trolleys laden with goods still need to deliver them over narrow bridges, steps and lanes spilling with a dense mass of visitors.

Venice Acqua Alta

Venice Acqua Alta

Piazza San Marco can take on a surreal dimension, doubling in size through mirrored reflections in the water. Performers in the fabled Caffè Florian and Caffè Quadri continue to play and sing classic melodies. Tourists add their own splash by walking bare feet in the water and posing for photographs.

Venice Acqua Alta

But once sufficient photos have been taken and every angle has been covered, the novelty wears out within ten minutes.

Venice Acqua Alta

Much like the tide receding after it has reached maximum levels, normality returns to Venice.


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.


  • Those photos sure take me back. Piazza San Marco had dried out only days before I arrived, but the planks and scaffolding were still strewn about.  The days were surprisingly mild, but  once the winter sun  slipped below the horizon the chill came all too quickly – especially when there was no cloud to trap what little warmth radiated off the architecture.  Looks like you had great weather too!

    • Dave: The weather was fickle on both days we visited, a combination of early acqua alta followed by blue skies then intermittent rain. The chill comes while riding the vaporetto, particularly in the early evening hours. At the time we were there, October, acqua alta was almost a daily occurrence. They’d pack the planks to one side then set them up the next day!

    • Jen: The first time I visited was during summer and I admit that seeing it in autumn added a mood that would be otherwise lost. Glad you enjoyed the photos 🙂

  • We were there a couple of weeks ago and I was very excited to experience acqua alta – though I’m sure for the locals it’s no fun at all. It was such a treat to see all the lovely buildings reflected in the water.

    • Hi Cathy – it is amazing to see the first time, isn’t it! I can imagine walking the plank gets to be norm for the locals.

      Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

      • I felt sorry for the poor souls trying to get along the planks with suitcases, but for me it was a wonderful experience. We took off our shoes and socks and waded; in some parts it was knee deep. And of course we took photos sitting at cafe tables in the water. But it took a while to get any feeling back in my toes…

        • It’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences, sitting in water at a cafe in Venice. I hope the water wasn’t icy!