Finchley Central station was built by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR) and was originally opened as Finchley & Hendon on 22 August 1867 by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) (which had taken over the EH&LR) in what was then rural Middlesex. The station was on a line that ran from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate. A branch line from this station was constructed by the GNR to High Barnet and opened on 1 April 1872. The station was renamed to Finchley (Church End) on 1 February 1894.
After the 1921 Railways Act created the Big Four railway companies, the line was, from 1923, part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). The section of the High Barnet branch north of East Finchley was incorporated into the London Underground network through the "Northern Heights" project begun in the late 1930s. The station took on its current name on 1 April 1940 and was first served by electric Northern Line trains on 14 April 1940. After a period where the station was serviced by both operators, LNER steam services ended in 1941. Northern Line services to Mill Hill East began on 18 May 1941, due to the need to carry passengers to and from the large army barracks nearby.
Charles Holden designed replacement buildings for the station, but the curtailment of the Northern Heights Plan caused by the Second World War, means that this was not implemented and the station still retains much of its original Victorian architectural character today. As one of two EH&LR stations retaining its original buildings, (with Mill Hill East), it is one of the oldest parts of the Underground system, pre-dating the first tunnelled section of the Northern Line (the City & South London Railway) by more than twenty years.
The station has two entrances. The main one, leading directly to the ticket hall, is from an access road on the north side of the tracks which for many years lacked a name, but on 13 November 2006 was named Chaville Way after one of Barnet's twin towns. Chaville Way is a turning off the main road opposite Nether Street at the point where the main road changes name from Ballards Lane to Regent's Park Road. It also leads to the station car park. The second entrance is in Station Road.
The two entrances are connected by a footbridge over the tracks from which stairs lead down to the platforms. Because the station only has one ticket hall, but two entrances, it is does not have fully gated access. At the Station Road entrance, there is just a pair of Oyster card validators.
The station has three platforms. Platform 3 is served by southbound trains. The other two are served by northbound trains, platform 1 mainly for trains terminating at Finchley Central or going to Mill Hill East, platform 2 mainly for trains going on to High Barnet.
Work was recently carried out by Tube Lines for the purpose of providing disabled access to each platform. One lift connects the northbound island platform with the station footbridge and the other connects the southbound platform with the ticket office. They opened in summer 2008.
Finchley Central was the station used in the 1930s by Harry Beck, designer of the original Tube map, and features a commemorative plaque on the southbound platform together with a facsimile poster of Beck's iconic 1933 design.