Hampshire is the most populous ceremonial county in the United Kingdom (excluding the metropolitan counties). Its two largest settlements, Southampton and Portsmouth, are administered separately as unitary authorities. The rest of the area forms the administrative county, which is governed by Hampshire County Council. The two cities are the main settlements within the South Hampshire conurbation, which is home to about half of the ceremonial county's population. The larger South Hampshire metropolitan area has a population of 1,547,000.
Hampshire 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. It is the largest county in South East England and remains the third largest shire county in the United Kingdom despite losing more land than any other English county in all contemporary boundary changes. At its greatest size in 1890, Hampshire was the fifth-largest county in England. It now has an overall area of 3,700 km2 (1,400 sq mi), and measures about 86 km (53 mi) east–west and 76 km (47 mi) north–south.
Hampshire's tourist attractions include many seaside resorts and two national parks: the New Forest and the South Downs (together covering some 45% of the county). The county has a long maritime history, and today Southampton and Portsmouth remain prominent ports. The county is known as the home of writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, the childhood home of Florence Nightingale and 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 old name was recorded in the Domesday book as Hantescire, and from this spelling, the modern abbreviation "Hants" derives. From 1889 until 1959, the administrative county was named the County of Southampton and has also been known as Southamptonshire.
Hampshire was the departure point of some of those who left England to settle on the east coast of North America during the 17th century, giving its name in particular to the state of New Hampshire. The town of Portsmouth, Virginia, takes its name from Portsmouth in Hampshire.