The historic center of Venice is small and even if you have just a one-day vacation in the city you can get to know it quite well.
If you arrive by train or by car, take a scenic boat ride down the Grand Canal to reach St. Mark's Square. To save time, take the faster route Number 82 which makes fewer stops along the way.
St. Mark's Square is the heart of Venice, offering so many museums that you could spend your whole day in this area alone. Since you only have a day, however, take a self-guided walking tour instead and snap some scenic pictures along the way. Standing in St. Mark's Square, you will get a great view of the basilica and the bell tower. If the line is not too long in front of the basilica, taking a look inside is well worth it. This church is unlike any other, decorated with golden mosaics and a magnificent 10th century altarpiece.
After seeing the church, head towards the Doge's Palace. A visit to the museum inside would take several hours, so head towards the inner courtyard instead to be able to fit it all into a one-day vacation. Enter through Porta della Carta which is located right next to the basilica. The inner courtyard features the Giant's Staircase which was used for the crowning of the doges.
Continue walking along the palace towards the water where you can enjoy scenic views of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. From there, hear east to Ponte della Paglia from which you can have a good look at the famous Bridge of Sighs.
Finish your tour of the area with a drink in St. Mark's Square, listening to music played by open-air orchestras.
Another must-see attraction in Venice is the Rialto bridge which lies north of St. Mark's Square. To get there, simply follow the yellow signs on buildings from St. Mark's Square. The walk takes about 30 minutes. Along the way, you will pass many shops selling glass souvenirs, designer clothing, handbags and sweets. From the top of the Rialto bridge you can enjoy splendid views of the Grand Canal.
Late in the afternoon, head southwest towards Sampo Santo Stefano and dine at Ristorante Masaniello which has tables in the square. Finish your tour of Venice at the nearby Accademia bridge where you can catch a vaporetto heading back to your car or the train station.