It is widely acknowledged that in times of climate change loss of coastal resources and risk for human life can be minimized by implementing adaptation strategies. Such strategies need to encompass a balanced mix of non-structural (institutional) and structural (technical) measures based on sound scientific knowledge. This article discusses measures carried out to protect the city of Venice, Italy from flooding (locally known as "high water"), and reflects on their ability to anticipate a possible acceleration of sea-level rise as induced by climate change. It is based on scientific literature, legislative and policy documents of key institutions, reports and documents of organizations working on Venice issues, newspaper articles, and interviews. Our analysis shows that the synergic action of the hydraulic defense infrastructure under construction is in principle adequate to withstand a broad range of sea-level rise scenarios for the next 100 years. However, when the goal is to use these investments effectively major changes in the existing institutional arrangements will be required in the years to come. The Venice findings point out the difficulties and yet the importance of identifying and implementing both non-structural and structural measures to adapt to climate change. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.