THE record levels of rainfall have given a major and surprising boost to tourism in Winchester.

Visitor numbers to the city are booming as people have avoided the seaside and the New Forest in favour of indoor attractions.

Numbers visiting the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) for May, June and July increased by over a thousand on the same period last year - a trend reflected at other indoor attractions around the city.

Alison Woods, TIC manager, said: "When the weather is warm and sunny, as it is this week, visitors head for the beach. But when it is wet, heritage sites like historic Winchester benefit as they have so much to offer that is not weather-dependent.

"Visitors can chose from numerous museums or enjoy a steaming hot chocolate in one of our cafés while watching the world splash-by. The city also offers a unique shopping experience with many independent stores and boutiques as well as art galleries," she said.

One attraction that has been boosted by the bad weather has been the Intech science centre at Morn Hill.

Its visitor numbers for April-July were 21,500, compared to 15,500 for the same period in 2006. That's an increase of 38 per cent.

Andy Lane, marketing manager, said: "The weather has been a decisive factor. At Easter it was very hot and we did not do very well.

"The decision time is breakfast. If the weather is bad we know we are in for a busy day."

Mr Lane said Intech was hoping to become an outdoor destination too with exhibits in the grounds.

Next March it is due to open a planetarium. The City Mill on Bridge Street said its figures for the first seven months of the year were six per cent up on 2006.

A spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased. We think it is partly the weather and partly the fact we have marketed ourselves better."

The cathedral recently announced 115,000 visited last year, up 10,000 on the previous 12 months.

Figures from the Environment Agency climate station at Otterbourne show that by July 24 there had already been 567mm of rain against the long-term annual average of 801mm. In percentage figures it means that already 70 per cent of the average rainfall has fallen in around 55 per cent of the year.

The council estimates day visitors contribute £122 million each year to the local economy, a figure that has been steadily increasing over time.