London: A Short Neighbourhood Guide to Kilburn

by Allie d'Almo  |  Published June 16, 2024

Squeezed between the loftier North London neighbourhoods of Hampstead and Maida Vale, Kilburn might not be as cool as Hackney or as wealthy as Notting Hill but those who venture to this Zone 2 district will be richly rewarded with excellent shops, top-notch theatre and some of the best food in the city. 

The Black Lion Pub on Kilburn High Road dates back over 600 years (Photo: The Black Lion Pub)

Kilburn is a small neighbourhood, even by London’s standards, with a busy high street running straight through the spine of it, bookended by the Jubilee and Bakerloo tube lines. This High Road is part of the historic Watling Street, an ancient road paved by the Romans that runs from Hyde Park to St. Albans.

For decades, Kilburn was the heartland of London’s Irish community and fondly referred to as ‘County Kilburn’. While there’s still a sizable Irish contingency here – and plenty of Irish pubs to prove it – today it’s a truly multicultural neighbourhood, where Turkish barbers sit next to Evangelist churches and Afro-Caribbean hairdressers, Iranian restaurants and specialist Philippine food shops all vie for business in the same market. 

The Kiln opened as the Tricycle Theatre in 1980 (Photo: The Kiln)

Roughly halfway down the High Road is the towering Grade 2 listed Gaumont Cinema (197 Kilburn High Rd.), inspired by the Empire State Building in New York City. It was the largest of its kind in Europe when it opened in the 1930s and seated over 4,000 at one time. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, everyone from Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones graced its stage. In fact, Kilburn boasts such a rich musical heritage that from the 1970s-1990s the entire stretch was known as the ‘Music Mile’ thanks to its legendary music venues. While many of the best venues like the Good Ship have long gone, there’s still live music at many of the pubs that line the road. 

Further along, the Kiln Theatre (269 Kilburn High Rd), formerly the Tricycle Theatre, is still a major cultural hub, renowned for its cutting-edge productions like Handbagged and The Wife of Wilsden, written by award-winning author and Kilburn local Zadie Smith. It also houses a sprawling cinema, which shows the latest blockbusters and cult classics, and has an excellent cafe and restaurant open all day. 

For those who prefer visual arts, the Kingsgate Workshops and Project Space (110-116 Kingsgate Rd) is a multi-use art space housed within a labyrinthine Victorian factory. As well as hosting regular exhibitions profiling a diverse range of contemporary national and international artists, there are screen printing classes, pottery workshops and sculpture classes. 

Kingsgate hosts regular exhibitions at its project space in Kilburn (Photo: Kingsgate Project Space)

Right at the end of Kilburn High Road is St Augustine’s Church (Kilburn Pard Rd.), which is well worth a visit even for the un-ecclesiastically minded. Billed as ‘the Cathedral of North London’, this sprawling late 19th-century church features the same dark brick vaulting of a stone cathedral, kaleidoscopic stained glass windows and magnificent tile decorations. Head to the school attached to the church on a Saturday morning for a rummage around one of the best car boot sales in London, which is popular with traders from nearby Portobello market. 

Eat and drink 

Kilburn isn’t short on brilliant boozers and ideally, you’ll make a night of it and doth your hat at a few, but if you only have time to visit one, make it the Sir Colin Campbell (246 Kilburn High Rd.) This independent modern Irish pub is owned and managed by descendants of Irish emigres and prides itself on providing Irish hospitality in the heart of London. That means brilliant beer, lots of craic and live Irish music every Friday and Saturday night. 

Wingmans serves up award-winning chicken wings on the High Road (Photo: Wingmans)

Spicy Basil (165 Kilburn High Rd.) is a local institution and so popular you’ll spot the queue before the restaurant. It doesn’t look much on the outside  – or, in all honesty, on the inside – but the food more than makes up for the ambience. Portions are generous and affordable, with a Pad Thai costing less than £7. Popular dishes include the Spicy Basil beef noodles, made with fresh Thai basil and oyster sauce, a creamy Red Thai Curry and a started called ‘Stuffed Golden Bags’ (deep-fried dumplings stuffed with veg, shellfish or meat). Note, it’s cash only. 

Those with a penchant for chicken will have heard of Wingmans (332 Kilburn High Rd.) – purveyors of some of the finest chicken wings in the capital city. Conveniently located between Kilburn station and Brondsbury overground station, the brand has become so popular that they’ve now opened a branch in Soho. Crowdpleasers include the Jamaican’ Me Crazy (served with a Carnival-inspired Scotch Bonnet base) and the classic Buffalo with Blue Cheese and Celery. The sides are never disappointing and the short rib mac and cheese is nothing short of sensational. 

Arianna II (241 Kilburn High Rd) is the kind of neighbourhood restaurant everyone dreams of having on their doorstep. Between its BYOB policy, affordable prices and authentic Afghan menu, it’s impossible to fault. If this is your first foray into Afghan cuisine, take the lead from the waiters, who will happily recommend their most prized dishes. Expect plates piled high with steaming spinach and pumpkin-stuffed samosas, fried aubergine and creamy hummus. The Kabuli Palow main dish, a tender lamb shank marinated with raisins, almonds and pistachios, is a show-stopper.  

For slightly more upmarket Middle Eastern fare, there’s Carmel (23-25 Lonsdale Road). The restaurant technically teeters on the edge of Kilburn and Queen’s Parkers will be quick to claim it as their own, but it’s less than a ten-minute stroll from the High Road. Founded by the team behind Berber & Q, the 45-seater space is all cosy booths and al fresco tables spilling onto the street. The menu, which features dishes ranging from tea-cured salmon to charred hispi cabbage to lamb shank shwarma are designed to be shared, ideally with a few of their famous sourdough flatbreads. 

Where to stay 

neighbourhood guide to Kilburn

Downstairs at The Black Lion Pub and B&B (Photo: The Black Lion)

For the full ‘Kilburn’ experience, you’ll want to book a cosy bed above a boozer – and the Black Lion (274 Kilburn High Rd.) is the best of a good bunch. Located in an iconic grade 2 listed building, with original windows dating back to 1898, guests can choose from Double or Queen rooms, each kitted out with crisp linen, widescreen televisions and freshly renovated bathrooms. Downstairs, there’s an excellent stable of drinks behind the bar and a top-notch food menu, with a hearty well-cooked breakfast included in the price. 

Meanwhile, those who prefer a ‘hotel’ in the truest sense of the word can book a night at the London Marriott Maida Vale (Plaza Parade). Conveniently located a stone’s throw from Kilburn Park and Kilburn High Road station, the hotel boasts all of the usual trappings of a Marriott hotel, including comfy double beds, high-speed WiFi and a swimming pool, a rarity in London. 

Find all available hotels in Kilburn via Booking.com