Italy is really two countries in one with the wealthy, historic north dominating. To get a taste of the south, Naples and Sorrento are your destinations.
If ever there was a city with a reputation, it is Naples. Dirty, nasty, crime-infested, and fanatical are all words thrown around when describing. In this case, the descriptions are true and it is GREAT! The place is a madhouse and colorful beyond description. Crime is a problem, but you will be fine if you use common sense.
Naples is all about “real.” You will not get that odd touristy sensation you find in the cities to the north. Naples is about living now, now in the past. The people can be gruff but are also a heck of lot more colorful than you will find elsewhere. If you get in trouble, just bring up the subject of football (soccer) and you’ll suddenly have friends for life.
The best way to experience Naples is just to explore it. The action is on the street, not in museums. If you’re hankering for picture opportunities, the glass dome over the Galleria Umberto I is a good spot. You can also climb above the city to take scenic pictures of the coast and the madness of Naples.
If you are really pining for a tourist fix, Pompeii and the looming Mount Vesuvius are close by. Pompeii, of course, was buried in a Mount Vesuvius explosion, literally freezing everything in place. Ah, you already know the story.
If Naples overwhelms you, head around the bay to Sorrento. Sorrento is similar to Naples with one notable exception. It is all about the tourist and making them comfortable. Frankly, it is hard to see how Naples and Sorrento can co-exist, but they do. In Sorrento, you can stay at ancient resorts where service is the name of the game. The beaches aren’t so hot, but you can rent jet skis and such to invoke your inner tourist.
Southern Italy often gets a bad rap as a rough place riddled with crime. To some extent it is true, but seeing Italy without the gloss of the north is worth it.