Hampshire (//, // or variants; abbreviated Hants) is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, the former capital city of England. Hampshire is the most populous ceremonial county in the United Kingdom outside the metropolitan counties such as the West Midlands. Hampshire is notable for housing the birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force. The ceremonial county is bordered by Dorset to the west, Wiltshire to the north-west, Berkshire to the north, Surrey to the north-east, and West Sussex to the east. The southern boundary is the coastline of the English Channel and the Solent, facing the Isle of Wight.
Hampshire is the largest county in South East England and the third largest shire county in the United Kingdom despite losing more land than any other English county during the Local Government Act 1972 boundary changes. At its greatest size in 1889, Hampshire was the fifth largest county in England. It now has an overall area of 3,700 square kilometres (1,400 sq mi), and measures approximately 86 kilometres (53 mi) east–west and 76 kilometres (47 mi) north–south.
Hampshire's tourist attractions include many seaside resorts, the motor museum at Beaulieu, with national parks in both New Forest and the South Downs (covering some 45% of the county). Hampshire has a long maritime history and two of England's largest ports, Portsmouth and Southampton, lie on its coast. The county is famed as home of such writers as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, as well as the birthplace of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Hampshire takes its name from the settlement that is now the city of Southampton. Southampton was known in Old English as Hamtun, roughly meaning "village-town", so its surrounding area or scīr became known as Hamtunscīr. The name was recorded in the Domesday book as Hantescire, and it is from this misspelling that the modern abbreviation "Hants" derives. From 1889 until 1959, the administrative county was named the County of Southampton.
Humans have probably existed in Hampshire on and off for perhaps as much as 700,000 years. The region is believed to have been continuously occupied since the end of the last Ice Age approximately 12,000 BP. At this time Britain was still attached to the European continent and was predominantly covered with deciduous woodland. The first inhabitants came overland from Europe; these were anatomically and behaviourally modern humans, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Over several thousand years, the climate got progressively warmer, and sea levels rose; the English Channel, which started out as a river, was a major inlet by 8000 BCE, although Britain was still connected to Europe by a land bridge across the North Sea until 6500 BCE. Notable sites from this period include Bouldnor Cliff.