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Venice acqua alta - Oct. 2018 - lessons learned

I arrived in Venice on 29 October, a day which will be burned into my memory forever. The acqua alta levels were record high, the vaporetti were cancelled, the taxis could not even get under most of the bridges. We stayed not in a hotel, but in an apartment rented through Airbnb, in Cannaregio. After we got settled, our host had us all download an ap on our phones, called W.V.F. Water on the Venice Floor. It is a live map of Venice showing flooded areas in red. It was invaluable! If you are going to Venice during a time when acqua alta is a possibility, this information is super handy to have.
I am not new to Venice, this being my 5th visit, so I had checked the tidal schedules, and I'd experienced acqua alta before, but this Oct. was a "perfect storm" and I'll admit that the water levels did take me by surprise upon our arrival - I'm 5'8" and the water was at my fingers with my hands hanging straight down, high-thigh level. If I needed one more justification for packing light, this was it. Although, I was bummed that I'd taken my flashlight out of my pack the day before departure, as the electricity was out when we arrived.
A HUGE thank you to Google Maps for street view. In prep for this trip, I had done a little virtual exploring in the neighborhood where we were staying which prepared me to be able to walk straight from the Ospedale to our front door, a nicety on a normal day, a necessity when leading your friends, wading through thigh-high water, during a storm.
My lessons learned:
pack a flashlight
use google maps street view ahead to prep
pack a snack (which I didn't have)
pack extra zip lock baggies (lifesaver for phones, passports, printed train tickets, etc.)
keep important information in handwritten notebook/don't depend only on electronics
check weather the day before departure (which I didn't do).
Lastly, experiencing acqua alta, even the extreme flood levels, only made me love Venice more!

Posted by
311 posts

The water level was't as high on our first visit to Venice as what you described. But being above our ankles as we arrived with luggage to transport on foot to our hotel from the water taxi truly was an adventure that we will always remember with a smile and sense of accomplishment for overcoming the challenge! Like you it only served to endear Venice to us. But at the same time it was confirmation of the need to pack light, but not at the expense of that extra pair of shoes! LOL

Posted by
6172 posts

Wow, Rena, this is a perfect example of , shall I say with a pun, seeing the glass half full instead of half empty? I love your attitude, which can make fond memories vs. grumpy complaining. I’m glad you posted; interesting to hear from a person who was actually there during that time. Venice is our favorite European city.

Posted by
891 posts


I was watching on skyline webcams and saw the water, but your description helped to visualize it more accurately.

I've been to Venice 3 times and would go back even if I knew there would be an Acqua Alta. Have not experienced one yet.
Thanks for posting with all of the good tips.

Posted by
3961 posts

Rena, your report made my day. Pardon the pun, but you "went with the flow!" Your positive attitude should inspire all of us to love Venice even more! We were there in September so missed it. Thanks for sharing your wise lessons learned. Very helpful hints.

Posted by
12648 posts

Rena! I missed this when you first posted. Yikes, what a time. Excellent suggestions to consider!

Would you go with staying in an Air BnB on your arrival night next time? Or would you defer to a hotel for 1 night then move?

Posted by
31060 posts

I missed this the first time through. I'm so glad I found it. Thanks, Rena. This is good stuff.

Posted by
672 posts

If you have an iPhone, it has a flashlight option that appears within a group of icons if you swipe up from the bottom of the screen after you wake up your phone.

Posted by
2249 posts

Many thanks for sharing your experience and tips. Valuable! Gosh, what a time to be in Venice. I've been there once during aqua alta but it was only ankle deep and kinda fun walking on the boards. Very different from what you experienced. Thanks again and I love your positive attitude.

Posted by
98 posts

Hey Rena, I'm curious what did you all do with the city flooded? Did everything shut down? Give us some more deets !

Posted by
77 posts

Pam: to answer you about hotel vs. Airbnb. I am very thankful that we had an Airbnb. I had quite a bit of communication with the host before our departure (Venice was the first stop from the USA) and I knew that she lived in the same building so there was some comfort there. Arriving in the power outage in the middle of the flood and storm, Cristina welcomed us like we were family. She showed us the water level ap mentioned above, and gave us advice about what time the water should be low enough for us to get out for dinner and to the co-op for groceries. She provided wellies in various sizes for all of us (did I mention that this was a ladies trip? My first time traveling internationally without my hub. For my girlfriends this was their FIRST trip to Europe!) and even with the wellies, later that evening at the very lowest tide time, the water was still at about my knees inside the ground floor, so that when we were going to go out for sustenance (i.e. dinner and prosecco...) the water was still too high. So there we were standing on the flooded steps inside our building and since the lights are on timers, the lights went out (this is important, I promise) so we make a back up plan to go back upstairs, I'll take one for the team, put on my wet shoes and hoof it to the co-op. We hadn't eaten since the mediocre breakfast on the Lufthansa flight SEA to FRA, going on 12 hours, see lesson #3 above. We were all pretty hungry. And emotional. Slogging up the stairs in the dark, trying to get the 1st floor door unlocked, the neighbor heard us and came out. He asked us why we needed to go out in the acqua alta and we told him we were going for food. He said "wait". And to make a delightful, but long, story short, he gave us a package of pasta, tomato sauce, and an onion. And even though any one of us girls would have gladly traded that pound of pasta for a bottle of prosecco, we were tearfully thankful to him. THIS is why I prefer to stay in Airbnb/VRBO, Cristina and her full time tenant. We all exchanged Christmas emails, I feel like I've made a friend for life.

Posted by
77 posts

Sen Say: to answer you about what did we do during the acqua alta.
The acqua alta is on the tide schedule so when the tide is at low tide, the sidewalks are dry in most places. We were there Monday through Friday. We watched the tide schedules and more importantly, we watched what shoes the locals were wearing. If we went out for cappuccino and pastry in the morning, and the older women in the neighborhood were wearing their square-healed dress shoes, we knew we were good for a few hours at least. If we started to notice that the locals were wearing wellies even though the walkways were dry, that was a flag to check the tide schedule again and check the W.V.F. ap for water levels. I would say that the acqua alta only slowed us down about 30%, we did all the normal stuff, just with a bit shorter days. Some of us in our group spent the majority of one day at San Marco and saw the Doges Palace. I had seen it before, so my sister and I spent a day exploring Cannaregio and the Jewish Quarter. That day we left the wellies at the apartment and opted for the 10 euro plastic booties since we wanted to wear our own, supportive, shoes. We had fun seeking out high ground when the water began to rise. It was All Saints Day, and most businesses were open. The one trattoria I wanted to go to was closed, but that was because of All Saints Day, not acqua alta, and the water levels that day were more in the normal flood level, not like the extreme on 10/29. Even on 10/29 the shopkeepers were in their stores. I had one afternoon, Halloween I think, when I didn't have my borrowed wellies and had to sit at the café in front of San Giovanni e Paolo and have a spritz all by myself while I was waiting for the water level to go down. If I haven't said it yet, first thing first, buy the ugly plastic shoe covers that go up to your knee. They will keep you dry. Here is a good representation of what it was like, the video is one "block" over from where we were staying AcquaAlta

Posted by
12648 posts

Rena! What a wonderful story! Thanks for adding the info on AirBnB vs hotel.

Posted by
12154 posts

We visited in October too and had acqua alta. It wasn't the perfect storm you describe but part of the day had water in parts of the city. I believe ours was more lunar/tidal and less storm related. I found the making, and unmaking, of waterproof barriers and walkways really interesting. I was glad I was there for that. For me it added to my visit.

People who've never been to Venice think the entire city is either dry or under water. The video shows a good example of one area that's knee deep., Cross the bridge and it's less than ankle deep (and you can see areas that aren't under water).

Posted by
77 posts

@Brad Yes! I found the setting up and tearing down of the risers fascinating. I also learned to pay attention to the locals' footwear. You can judge what the weather and water level (if any) is predicted to be by watching what the Venetians were wearing on their feet in the mornings.
Glad to hear you had a good time.
We were there at the very end of October and over All Saints' Day. It was glorious and I can't wait to return!