Why you should absolutely visit the Fairmont Banff Springs — but maybe not spend the night
In a world where the descriptor "iconic" is overused, the Fairmont Banff Springs stands out as a true Canadian icon.
Located in the heart of Banff, Alberta, within the boundaries of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Banff National Park, this sprawling Fairmont property looks like a castle plucked straight out of a fairy tale with its stone walls and pitched roof, and it has been welcoming visitors for more than 130 years.
As a travel enthusiast and hotel buff, I've wanted to stay at this standout for as long as I can remember. This summer, my wish came true when my family's twice-delayed trip to Alberta finally got off the ground.
Eager to start our trip in style, we decided to spend one night at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs. The property was every bit as special as I had hoped and imagined, though one key detail felt like an afterthought: the rooms.
But don't let the potentially dated accommodations and expensive overnight rooms deter you from visiting. There are plenty of reasons why you should check out this classic Canadian Rockies beauty ... just without necessarily spending the night.
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The grounds are gorgeous
The Fairmont Banff Springs is gorgeous — and so are the grounds that surround it.
The cool, early summer mountain air certainly helped set the stage, but everything here looked like it was out of an oversaturated travel brochure.
The green grass, the bright flowers, the blue sky ... the whole hotel looked like a movie set. It was almost too beautiful to believe it was all real.
Given the picturesque setting, you'll want to allot ample time for simply walking around the property and taking it all in when you visit. Be sure to admire the buildings from every angle, as there really isn't a bad perspective, no matter which direction you look. There are also many courtyards, nooks and crannies to uncover.
Castle vibes are front and center in the lobby
When you walk through the Fairmont Banff Springs' gilt revolving doors, you'll feel as if you've been transported to a castle somewhere in Europe.
The lobby's high ceilings, sweeping staircase, medieval-inspired light fixtures, stone walls and infusion of plaid textures throughout are reminiscent of a baronial Scottish hunting lodge.
Everyone from my 6-year-old daughter to my parents in their 70s was bowled over by the ambiance ... in a good way.
Related: A dream stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The main pool area has a cave and phenomenal views
The Fairmont Banff Springs has several pools, but in the main pool area, you'll find an indoor pool and an outdoor pool with jaw-dropping mountain vistas.
While the indoor pool was my least favorite of the bunch due to its colder water, it's architecturally beautiful and ideal for swimming laps if you're looking for a way to get in a workout without visiting the gym.
However, the heated outdoor pool was a favorite of my family, as it offered stunning panoramas of the surrounding mountains and was maintained at a comfortably warm temperature — despite looking a little rough around the edges in some spots.
Sure, Banff is home to spring-fed pools (which we also visited during this trip), but this pool at the Fairmont Banff Springs was at least as beautiful. It was easily one of the most memorable swims we've ever had. You'll quickly find yourself thinking you're in the Swiss Alps instead of the Canadian Rockies.
But there's more to this part of the property than pools. Tucked inside the complex, close to the indoor pool, is a cave-like alcove with a hot tub.
This special spot was another highlight of our visit and is well worth seeking out. It was the perfect place to warm up and unwind after an active day outdoors.
There are fantastic places to eat and drink
Whether you're craving Italian, steakhouse fare or something in between, there are lots of places to satiate your appetite at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Try as I might, I couldn't sample all of them during our one-night stay, but I was impressed by pretty much everything we did get a chance to taste.
The first order of business upon arrival was to grab some sandwiches from Stock, the grab-and-go spot off the lobby. While our order was just a grilled cheese and BLT, it was the perfect introduction to the hotel's dining options. The bacon was incredibly crispy, and the cheese was beyond gooey.
If you can swing it, make plans for a sit-down meal — reservations are available on OpenTable — during your visit. We grabbed dinner at 1888 Chop House, and it was a meal to remember.
The wagyu ($84), sauteed mushrooms ($12), perfectly charred Brussels sprouts ($12) and Prohibition-style old fashioned ($17) were all exceptional, and the excellent service took everything to another level. It was far more than a meal; it was an experience, and one I recommend.
If you want to stretch your dollars further, head to the Rundle Bar from 3 to 5 p.m. and order off the venue's list of $10 happy hour cocktails, beer and wine options. Know, though, that the bar does get quite lively, so you won't want to wait too long to grab a seat during peak times and weekends.
Related: Hidden gem: The Canadian Marriott with a Nordic spa that stands in the shadow of Banff
On-site activities are abundant
There's so much you can do in and around the Fairmont Banff Springs that you may find it hard to decide which activities to prioritize.
If you're traveling with kids, consider making a reservation for the four-lane bowling alley, Bowl Valley. Prices, which include shoe rentals, start at 79 Canadian dollars (about $61) per lane per hour for up to seven people. You can make a reservation in person or in advance by reaching out to BSH.BowlingCentre@fairmont.com. Try to snag a lane on a Sunday or Wednesday when food and drink specials are available.
Should you want to spend as much time outdoors as possible, check out the adjacent stables, which offer one-hour trail rides starting at CA$89 ($69) per person.
There are plenty of lovely spots around the property, too, if you're less inclined to saddle up.
If I did one thing wrong on this trip, it was not finding the time for a treatment at the on-site Willow Stream Spa. From everything I've seen and read, a treatment at the spa is quite the treat. You'll receive access to the spa's mineral pool for three hours with any service.
One-hour massages start around CA$200 ($155), but if you're looking to save some money, you may find spa and pool access sold on sites like Resort Pass for CA$76 ($59). Just know that these kinds of passes typically do not include spa treatments.
The hotel is a hub of activity, so know that there are countless other ways to pass the time beyond these activities. Families will especially love the plethora of fun year-round programs ranging from geocaching to castle treasure hunts.
The 1 downside: The tired rooms
If I haven't hit this home yet, let me restate the obvious: You should absolutely budget time and money for visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs to enjoy happy hour, a nice meal, activities and probably even a spa treatment. But should you find the room rates to be a bit too pricey for your budget, it's completely fine to skip spending the night -- especially right now.
We booked a deluxe one-king room for a little more than CA$1,000 (about $775) for one night, and while we loved our time at the Fairmont, the room itself (which ended up being one with two beds) was nothing special. The view from the room and the Le Labo soap were highlights, but the rest of the space was in need of a refresh.
The technology was old and the decor was dated, making it tough to justify spending anywhere close to the nightly rate. You can find cheaper rates outside the busy summer season, but if you're keen on visiting Banff when the weather is warmer, expect prices here to be consistently steep.
Fortunately, there are plans to renovate all the rooms in the not-too-distant future.
The hotel started a CA$35 million ($27 million) renovation of its guest rooms and suites in 2021, with all the accommodations expected to be finished in 2023, according to the hotel. When completed, the rooms will feature "a contemporary look and stylish enhancements with classic design elements, creating a tranquil space for both business and leisure travelers."
While there isn't yet a way to guarantee you are booking a renovated room, outside of a Fairmont Gold booking, this should change at some point in 2023. Here's a peek at what the renovated rooms are looking like, courtesy of the Fairmont.
To get your money's worth once the refurbishment is complete, compare the hotel's package discounts to the ALL - Accor Live Limitless 5% member discount rate.
You may also want to consider booking via the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express since it offers a $100 property credit, 4 p.m. late checkout, the possibility of a room upgrade and daily breakfast for two.
Related: The dark horse of the hotel world: Why it’s time to pay attention to Accor
If you have the money or points to comfortably stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, do it. Just don't go into the stay expecting the room to be the highlight quite yet, even if it is the most expensive part of the experience. Of course, your experience may be different than mine if you land in one of the rooms that are already renovated.
Renovated or not, if should you find the cost of an overnight stay to be too tough to stomach, you can skip the stay in favor of a daytime visit. You won't sacrifice much by not staying on-site, as the real draws of this historic hotel are its setting, amenities and activities.
Regardless of whether you hang your hat here or at a nearby hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs should be at the top of your list of iconic spots to see while in Banff.
Everything from the old-fashioned luggage carts sitting out front to the delicious food and drinks available inside make this property a true Canadian gem worth exploring.