The Solent has been a magnet for tourism and recreation for 150 years since the railways brought Londoners to the Witterings, Hayling Island, Southsea, Lymington and the Isle of Wight in ever increasing numbers. Queen Victoria built a country residence at Osborne House which enhanced the areas popularity and tourism continues to be a major source of income particularly for the Isle of Wight. The island is a popular destination and has many high quality natural and man-made features to offer its visitors. There is increasing evidence that having access to the natural environment is important for people's health and well being, the English Coast Path is opening up coastal access all around the coast of England.
Many industries have flourished to serve the recreation market, clubs have been formed to enable organised participation and there is a substantial range of facilities and support infrastructure to ensure that recreation is available to large numbers of people. Recreation does however face a number of challenges - some long standing, and some newer. Population pressure, climate change, lack of space, new planning regimes and tightening economic circumstances are all factors that could cause a decline in opportunities and limit the possible future expansion.
In terms of the numbers of people involved and its extent, recreation is the Solent's most significant activity. It is certainly the most diverse, with at least twenty different activities taking place, each with its own characteristic distribution and pattern of use. Land-based informal recreation and walking have by far the greatest number of participants. People can participate at country parks, public open spaces, beaches, the rights of way network and a range of visitor attractions and facilities.
The Solent is also one of the most densely populated sailing areas in the world and enjoys an international reputation. There are circa 24,000 moorings and marina berths in the area. Clusters of activity are at Chichester Harbour, Portsmouth Harbour, River Hamble, Southampton Water and Cowes.
Water-based activities include:
The Bird Aware Solent strategy monitors levels of recreation in the Solent.
Visit Isle of Wight is the official tourism centre for the Isle of Wight with lots of resources on where to stay and what is on offer. The whole of the Isle of Wight (including the waters around the Island) is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The award was made by the United Nations Man and Biosphere Co-ordinating Council in 2019.