Hello we arrive in Venice today at noon and are only staying one night and leave for the airport at 5 AM any recommendations on what we should do?
Take a vaporetto up or down the grand canal.
Wander around randomly exploring back canals until 4 - 5 PM. I’d suggest going to Campo San Polo or Campo Santa Maria Formosa then branching off from there. Stop at small bars to get a drink or snack (called cicchetti in Venice). Or coffee or gelato if you prefer. Stop into small churches to see art. I say do this until 4-5 because the San Marco - Rialto area gets marginally less insanely crowded by then.
If you want a gondola ride, do it from a lesser known place, you will probably walk by some.
By 5 it will be less busy in San Marco and Rialto so go there. If you can get into the Basilica, great. I don’t know the reservation requirements now due to covid. It might close at 5, so if you want to try this get there at 4-ish or look up the reservation options. Do the San Marco - Rialto walk.
Have dinner at 7PM. Look up restaurants or just see what looks good. Don’t eat at a restaurant ON San Marco square, it’s super expensive.
After dinner go back to San Marco by evening light. Have an overpriced drink on the square.
If you haven’t done a vaporetto ride, do it now. Go up the grand canal from San Marco.
The key to Venice in a short visit is to see the back canals and get the feel of the place, NOT just stick to the most famous highlights.
You could visit St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. They are right next to each other in St. Mark’s Square.
Follow the crowd!
I'd say the opposite--don't follow the crowd. You'll want to see Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Market, but you don't have to take the same path as all the other tourists heading there if you have an electronic map (like Google Maps) loaded on a smartphone and can follow the You Are Here dot so you don't go too far out of your way. If you had more time, I'd tell you just to wander at will.
don't follow the crowd
After visiting Venice twice, I saw everything by following the crowd. Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square is where the crowd goes. What’s easy about following a map in Venice? Venice is the place where I put the map away.
It depends on what you really want to see and do. Having been to Venice 4 times I can now say that I love strolling the less crowded areas more than the tourist hot spots. But if it's your first trip to Venice I'd suggest walking the San Polo and Dorsoduro neighborhoods (sestiere). In San Polo there is great shopping and the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari for art lovers (like me). The Dosoduro neighborhood has great art as well. The Gallerie dell 'Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection are worth a visit. After leaving Dosoduro you can walk across the Accademia Bridge into the San Marco neighborhood. From Campo Santo Stefano it's a quick and scenic stroll to Piazza San Marco. This is the tourist center of gravity but still very much worth seeing. Saint Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace will be among the most crowded sites in the city. These are definitely worth a visit but you can see so much more by skipping them this time. After leaving Piazza San Marco make your way to the Rialto Bridge. The last neighborhood on this little loop would be Cannaregio which is a beautiful and vibrant area that we always love to wander around in. I'd suggest mapping out this loop and starting from wherever your hotel is. This complete loop, without stops, takes me about 2 hours so you can judge how much time you can spend at each site.
My first 2 trips to Venice were day trips and they were wonderful. When I finally decided to make Venice my home base for a week I really fell in love with it. Staying on the island is completely different experience and I hope that you get to do that soon.
Best wishes for a safe and successful trip!
Have you been to Venice before? If so, what have you seen already? What time of year are you going?
Please let us know what you did and how it worked out.
Others with your time constraint would find it helpful to know what did ( or didn't) work