Solid immersion lens (SIL) microscopy combines the advantages of conventional microscopy with those of near-field techniques, and is being increasingly adopted across a diverse range of technologies and applications. A comprehensive overview of the state-of-the-art in this rapidly expanding subject is therefore increasingly relevant. Important benefits are enabled by SIL-focusing, including an improved lateral and axial spatial profiling resolution when a SIL is used in laser-scanning microscopy or excitation, and an improved collection efficiency when a SIL is used in a light-collection mode, for example in fluorescence micro-spectroscopy. These advantages arise from the increase in numerical aperture (NA) that is provided by a SIL. Other SIL-enhanced improvements, for example spherical-aberration-free sub-surface imaging, are a fundamental consequence of the aplanatic imaging condition that results from the spherical geometry of the SIL. Beginning with an introduction to the theory of SIL imaging, the unique properties of SILs are exposed to provide advantages in applications involving the interrogation of photonic and electronic nanostructures. Such applications range from the sub-surface examination of the complex three-dimensional microstructures fabricated in silicon integrated circuits, to quantum photoluminescence and transmission measurements in semiconductor quantum dot nanostructures.