Should I have brought Wellington / rubber boots?

The 12th of November 2019 occurred an exceptional high tide of + 187 cm, the second highest tide ever, after the big one of 1966. More than 85% of the city has been covered by water. Many (work)shops, museums, restaurants and historic buildings have been affected but Venetians have worked hard to get everything back to normal in few days.


There are really few chances to wear ‘Wellies’ during a holiday in Venice. The tide in the Venetian Lagoon rises and falls twice every day and sometimes many factors overlap and the tide overflows onto some of the streets. The resulting high water is known in Italian as ‘Acqua Alta’.

The water level is measured in centimetres: when it’s over 80cm above sea level most of St. Mark’s Square is flooded as it is a low lying area of the city. This happens usually during the autumn/winter.

Exceptional high waters – when the water-line is equal to or more than 140 centimetres on the mareographic zero of “Punta della Salute”, located near the Salute Church, in front of St. Mark’s Square – statistically occur once every 3 years and it is only these that affect the whole town (and even on those occasions the water level is really remarkable only in the lowest areas).

These are the flooding rates of the historical centre and Giudecca in relation to high water levels (measured on the mareographic zero):

+100 cm: 5%
+110 cm: 12%
+120 cm: 28%
+130 cm: 46%
over +140 cm 59% of the city is covered by water

Venice and Venetians have always been used to coping with ‘Acqua Alta’. If there’s a sea level forecast of +110cm on the mareographic zero, the population is alerted by acoustic signals and with text messages (for those registered at the free high tide information service of the City Tide Centre – Centro Maree Comunale). At the same time, elevated platforms are set up along the main streets to allow passage. Public waterbuses keep on working, although some lines may be subject to changes. In any case access to most of the city is guaranteed.

Only when exceptionally high waters occur (higher than 120 cm on the mareographic zero) are the famous ‘Acqua Alta’ boots really needed, but even on these occasions the inconvenience lasts just as long as it takes for the water to go down again, which usually happens in a few hours.

As you may remember seeing in the media at the time, on 1st December 2008 heavy rains and strong winds caused much of the city to flood and for 4 hours some inconvenience was experienced. On the afternoon of the flooding many places were closed, but the next morning Venice was running as usual. Venetians are very used to living with ‘Acqua Alta’, and when it happens, we take it in our stride. The high water comes and it goes, never lasting more then a few hours and receding as the tide goes out.

If it does occur while you’re in Venice, one good suggestion is to find a dry bar that sells good wine, cicheti or coffee and to sit and wait for the water to go down while taking in the community spirit fostered by such an occasion… and don’t forget your camera!

It is also worth noting that there are a number of shops and stalls in the city selling Wellington/rubber boots and cheaper disposable versions should they be required.

For further details and F.A.Q. about Acqua Alta, see