East London’s top five culture highlights

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Ragged School Museum, Bow

Ragged schools were set up to provide free education for poor inner-city children in the Victorian era. The museum is housed in three huge canalside buildings, which once formed the largest ragged school in London run by Dr Thomas Barnardo. It is a real centrepiece of East End life, and there's a restored classroom where you can experience a Victorian-style lesson. There's also a nice cafe on the canal.
• 46-50 Copperfield Road, E3, 020-8980 6405, ragge
dschoolmuseum.org.uk, free. Open Wed, Thurs 10am-5pm, first Sunday of month 2pm-5pm

Of the many churches in the east, this one is not so well known, but it's iconic because it was designed by Sir John Soane, one of London's foremost architects, from 1826. Although it was partially destroyed by fire in 1870, it was restored by local architect William Mundy and retains the beauty and elegance of Soane's original in features such as the vestibule, staircase and crypt. It's also an important part of the community and runs art classes. It's next to the Museum of Childhood, so when you've been there, pop next door.
• 200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2, stjohnonbethnalgreen.org

The east is much greener than most people imagine, and the Regent's Canal and the Hertford Union Canal connect all the green spaces – Victoria Park, Mile End Park, Ropemakers Field, Bartlett Park. They're rich in history and in contemporary life – old warehouses alongside modern architecture – and there's a real buzz in all the new things that are springing up like the cafes, pubs and shops. There's even a floating market for the Olympics alongside Mile End Park between Mile End Road and Roman Road. It features barges selling everything from coffee and cakes to books and vintage clothes. There's even a floating hairdresser. It will be open until 16 August, and move to Little Venice in west London from 20 August to 2 September for the Paralympics.

This museum of immigration explores the waves of newcomers that helped shape the modern, multicultural city. It is an extraordinary place – an early 18th-century house built for a Huguenot silk merchant. The space in the attic was the workshop for weavers and there's a rare surviving synagogue in the garden. So many different people have lived here since then – Irish, Jews, Bengalis and Somalis – and because it hasn't been restored the history of the area is written in the dusty walls. The first time I went I had goosebumps.
• 19 Princelet Street, E1, 020-7247 5352, 19princeletstreet.org.uk, is open to the public free for several days a year. Group visits for up to 40 people can be arranged for a minimum donation of ?100, but should be booked well in advance

This is a very special place – and a real community hub. It's somewhere that city kids who maybe haven't seen farm animals before can come and see the pigs, goats, sheep and ducks. But it also teaches them where their food comes from – it smells a bit, and that's important. It's got a brilliant cafe with great Italian food called Frizzante, which models itself on an agriturismo and is a great place to go for Sunday lunch after you've been to nearby Columbia Road flower market.
• 1a Goldsmiths Row, E2, 020-7729 6381, hackneycityfarm.co.uk, free. Open Tues-Sun 10am-4.30pm, feeding time 4pm

Rhian Harris, director of the V&A Museum of Childhood, museumofchildhood.org.uk, which has a Mascots of the Olympic Games exhibition until 28 October, admission free. Open daily 10am-5.45pm

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