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BlogTravel buzzIs Venice sinking? Yes, but there’s more to the story
Travel buzz

Is Venice sinking? Yes, but there’s more to the story

Jul 10, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

The city of Venice’s ornate architecture and rich culture make it captivating, but its labyrinthian canals and position on the water are what make it truly extraordinary. Venice has always had a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding water—it’s one of the things that makes our Venice tours feel like otherworldly experiences. However, it seems that of late, the city’s legendary charm is often overshadowed by the persistent question: Is Venice sinking? The short answer is: Yes, Venice is sinking, but there’s more to the story.

Is Venice sinking? Not as much as you might think

The reality of Venice sinking is that it has been happening for centuries, though perhaps not as significantly as we might think. Each year, the city sinks about one to two millimeters, about the same rate as the city of New York. So, why is Venice sinking? The foundations of the city’s buildings sit atop piles, long timber supports driven deep into the mud beneath the lagoon. Over time, the mud beneath the piles shifts and is compacted, causing the whole city to sink slightly. Additionally, shifting tectonic plates and industrial practices (like major construction projects and groundwater extraction) in the 20th century exacerbated the sinking, though the local government put a stop to these practices in the 1970s.

Despite this gradual subsidence, Venice remains one of our favorite cities in Europe for its mysterious charm and exquisite architecture. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s one of the most romantic places to visit in Italy. Whether you’re passing through on our Grand Tour of Europe: London to Rome or soaking up the best of Italy on our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to marvel at the unique resilience of this “floating” city.

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The sea is also rising

It may seem like Venice flooding has become a regular occurrence, but that’s because, in a way, it always has been. Several times a year, Venice floods at high tide in a phenomenon known as, “acqua alta,” or, “high water.” The high tide, combined with high winds and seasonal rainfall, cause Venice’s streets to fill with water. This is a completely normal occurrence, and elevated wooden walkways are brought out to keep pedestrians’ feet dry—though if you take a trip to Venice during acqua alta, you’ll see plenty of people who prefer to don knee-high rubber boots to splash through the streets. However, more extreme flooding, like the acqua alta events of 1966 and 2019 (which saw water rise more than six feet), have become more frequent.

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The good news is that a solution is already underway

So, is Venice sinking combined with rising sea levels a cause for concern? Of course, but it’s also a call to action. The city is finding proactive, innovative solutions to adapt to the changing environment while preserving Venice’s heritage and beauty—so there’s no need to worry about your trip to Venice feeling like a tour of Atlantis.

The MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) project was conceived of in 1984 and comprises a series of barriers that rise from the floor of the lagoon’s inlets in the event of high waters, protecting Venice from heavy flooding. The project took decades to get off the ground due largely to corruption and costs, but construction finally began in 2003 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025. Although construction is incomplete, the MOSE barriers are operational and are already working to save Venice from flood damage.

When raised during times of exceptionally high water, the barriers keep even St. Mark’s Square relatively dry. That means you won’t have to miss an opportunity to explore the Doge’s Palace or join a gondola ride excursion on your Venice tour, regardless of the weather. While the barriers aren’t a permanent solution, they’re built to last about a hundred years, and more lasting solutions are already in the works. With any luck, they’ll give travelers a chance to admire the enduring beauty of Venice for centuries to come.

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What to know before you visit Venice

You don’t have to worry about Venice falling into the sea anytime soon, but here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your tour of Venice.

  • Most of the flooding in Venice happens between October and January, so if you want to avoid the high water, it’s best to book your trip to Venice in the spring or summer. However, acqua alta generally only lasts for a few hours at the highest tide points of the day, and fewer visitors in the winter means shorter lines and lower prices across Venice—these are a few of the many reasons why we love traveling in the off season.
  • St. Mark’s Square is the lowest point in Venice and is the first place to flood. The city erects raised wooden walkways through the square and its surrounding areas, so even if you venture out during high tide, you won’t have to wade through puddles.
  • Flood sirens sound throughout the city on days when flooding is expected. Locals will also receive text alerts with flood warnings, and there are apps available to download that track the tides in Venice.
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What to do in Venice when the water is high

If you do decide to visit Venice during the off season (perhaps during one of our favorite events in Venice, Carnival), we recommend taking advantage of any acqua alta events, which offer a unique perspective on the city.

  • Take advantage of the photo op. If you’re lucky enough to experience acqua alta on a tour of Venice, why not take a moment to admire its unique beauty? Snap a photo of St. Mark’s Basilica reflected in the mirror-like water blanketing St. Mark’s Square. Rain and pooling water only seem to enhance Venice’s enchantment, adding an air of mystery and serene beauty to the city. “I even enjoyed the rainy day in Venice,” said traveler Gaynell after joining our Italy, the Adriatic & Greek Islands Cruise. “The views were spectacular and breathtaking.”
  • Attend an opera. If you find yourself with a free evening in Venice when the water is high, duck inside the gilded Teatro La Fenice for an opera or classical music performance. The opera house is as romantic and dramatic as the city itself, and attending a performance is a quintessential Venetian experience.
  • Enjoy the cuisine. Do as the locals do during acqua alta and head to a restaurant or Rialto Market to indulge in some of Venice’s fresh seafood dishes and a spritz, or head to Harry’s Bar to try a Venetian classic, the Bellini.
  • Take a water taxi. Unless the water is particularly high (like the infamous events of 1966 or 2019), vaporettos, or water taxis, will still operate during the high water. Join the Venice Grand Canal Cruise excursion offered on our Venice, Florence & Rome for Solo Travelers tour to cruise around the Grand Canal and marvel at the city’s impressive architecture.
  • Put on your boots and explore. Take a tip from our Venice Travel Guide and pack a pair of rain boots for your trip to Venice. Even if you don’t bring your own, you’ll find waders and boots for sale at shops across the city when the tide rolls in. It’s not uncommon to see boot-clad Venetians splashing through the streets and sipping coffee at cafes amid ankle-deep water.
Discover the enduring beauty of Venice when you join us on one of our Venice tours!

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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