The prospect of coming face to face with sharks, dolphins and other forms of sea life is always an enticing one. And so it was that we visited The Deep in Hull, the biggest aquarium in Europe that would actually rather promote its status as the world's first submarium.

One thing is certain: it is one huge building. Housed in Sir Terry Farrel's innovative glass and aluminium creation overlooking the Humber Estuary, The Deep is both a museum and an environmental and educational charity.

The centre is divided into more than 30 exhibits, from shallow tropical seas to the icy depths of the ocean, and it is home to more than 3,500 fish including rays, octopus and 40 kinds of sharks.

It is also proving to be rather popular and it has been from the start – in the first five months of its opening 500,000 visitors poured through the doors. That's £45.5m well spent.

Visitors can walk through transparent tunnels that take them from the shallows of a coral lagoon to the inky depths of the abyssal plain. A glass lift descends through 10m of water and you can walk through Europe's deepest viewing tunnel.

There are some areas which need attention. A 3D cinema takes visitors on a factual journey through the ocean but the sound quality is poor and the overall film rather dull. Why view sharks through 3D glasses when the real things are swimming around nearby? Some of the windows were too small and it would have benefited from greater theming.

And yet there is no doubting that The Deep is an amazing attraction and a brilliant day out. It's just two hours from Bolton but it will transport visitors into a different world that can't fail to raise eyebrows and have mouths gape open in astonishment.

As swordfish swim gracefully, as fish in assorted bright colours flutter past and as you see the electrifying lights of some of these underwater creatures, you'll then walk by a tube of jellyfish and be mesmerised. It really is full of surprises.

Great for kids, just as wonderful for grown-ups, there is little in England to match it.