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The tl;dr I-just-looked-at-pics version: The beautiful “Castle in the Rockies” is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever visited. The historic hotel is picturesque, the staff are wonderful, and it is a top-notch 5-star experience. Our three nights in a Fairmont Banff Springs one bedroom suite were superb. Not to mention it was a spectacular use of free night and upgrade certificates we got from the Fairmont card before it died.
My wife and I decided to head to Banff for a getaway in April. Yeah, it is shoulder season in the Canadian Rockies, but we decided to visit nonetheless. The decision to plan the trip came after I got the Chase Fairmont card back in January before the application links completely died. We could have simply used the certificates on a weekend getaway to the Bay Area, but I have wanted to visit Banff for a while now.
I initially identified the Fairmont Lake Louise as the place I wanted to stay, but the more I read about the Springs hotel, I decided to book our stay there instead. If we visited in summer, I surely would have picked Lake Louise. In April, though, the lake is still frozen and the area is snowed in, so staying in Banff itself seemed the better option.
We pulled off three nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs in a one bedroom suite for a *crazy* cheap price (SEE: How we stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs for 3 nights for $99.18). It was definitely a travel hacking win!
Arriving in Banff
My wife and I arrived at the Fairmont Banff Springs mid-afternoon after driving from Calgary. Banff is only about 90 minutes from YYC, so it is extremely accessible location to visit. The drive was super easy. The road into the mountains is nothing like the winding highways in northern California. We could do 110 kmh pretty much the whole way. Unfortunately, it was fairly cloudy as we drove in, so we missed out on a first glimpse of the picturesque landscape surrounding Banff.
Upon arriving at the Fairmont Banff Springs, we were welcomed by doormen and greeter. I had checked in electronically with Fairmont earlier, but we were informed that our room still wasn’t quite ready. Official check-in time at the Fairmont Banff Springs is 4 p.m., and we were just a tad early. The greeter took a few minutes to explain some of the features of the hotel to us while we waited, but before she even finished, she received a message saying that our room was now ready.
The valet offered to park the car for us, but I declined. We’re just that cheap. Self parking is still $25 CAD per day in the hotel parking garage.
The doorman took our luggage while we headed up to our room. Our suite was only on the second floor. I was definitely disappointed when the greeter told us this. Now I figured we were going to get stuck in a suite near an interior corner with no view. When I reserved the room, I had initially tried to get a turret suite, but they were unfortunately sold out. I really wanted something with a view, so I was a bit dismayed by where they had put us. That’s what I get for using free night certificates…
Initial impression of our Fairmont Banff Springs one bedroom suite
My misgivings evaporated the instant we arrived at our room. From the door I could already see forested mountain slopes through a gigantic picture window in the living area.
The living area was lovely. There were two couches, a small table with chairs, and an unmatched view of the mountains.
Oh, I guess there was also a TV. But with the scenic vistas surrounding us, we never found an occasion to turn it on.
We could tell that the beautiful suite living area had been added on to the original building. Imagining the room without it made me wonder why people paid $399 CAD per night to stay here. It would have been tiny!
The staff had even brought a refrigerator up, something I had requested when I booked the room.
The view was as spectacular as I’d imagined. Or at least….it was going to be at some point. the mountaintops were still obscured by clouds.
I took some photos out the window. All I knew was that those clouds better clear up for at least a little while in the next couple days. It would be sad to visit Banff and not get to completely enjoy its spectacular setting.
Bedroom and bathroom
The bedroom and bathroom were similarly well appointed. The bedroom was tucked into a corner with a small window and a partial wall dividing you from the entry area, while the bathroom was sandwiched between the living room and bedroom.
The tray on the bed was laid out and ready for us to order breakfast. We had a couple certificates to burn on meals for the trip, but since they didn’t cover (the very expensive) breakfast, we passed. We’d bought groceries in Calgary anyway.
The bathroom was nice, if not overly large.
The tub was a little worse for wear, but entirely adequate. If the hotel remodels the rooms anytime soon, the bathroom is where they should start.
There toiletries were abundant. And they were dutifully replaced each day by housekeeping.
After enjoying our lovely room for a while, my wife and I took a stroll to the Bow River. The clouds were breaking up a bit, but it was doubtful things would clear before sunset.
Our first morning at the Fairmont Banff Springs
We slept in a bit the first morning since our travels the previous day had required us to get up at the ghastly hour of 4 a.m. I quickly found the in room coffee, which turned out to be quite good. Luckily, I had thought ahead this trip and bought a pint of milk to help me enjoy it.
Opening the shades, we saw that it had snowed during the night, which looked beautiful on the rooftops. Now if only those clouds would clear!
Short story: they did. By the time we got back from our first day out, the weather had cleared up nicely. We stopped across the river from the hotel to take some iconic shots.
I could just stare at those mountains all day. Back in our room, the views were much better as well.
This is what I’m talkin’ about! Although I kinda killed Mt. Rundle in my panorama…
Housekeeping provided turndown service while we were out for the evening. We declined the first night, but we were gone the second day when they came by. The service included chocolate and a card with a guess at the weather the following day.
Apparently the service also included tucking my toothbrush in for bed? Maybe the maid was grossed out that I left it straight on the counter?
Touring the Fairmont Banff Springs
While browsing the hotel info on the desk in the room, I discovered that the Fairmont Banff Springs offers a Heritage Tour on the weekends. They only run once per day Saturday and Sunday, at 1:00 p.m.
The tour guide was a crack up. She was both engaging and knowledgeable, giving us an overview of the history of the hotel while escorting us through some of the public areas.
The large hall is often used for weddings and other events. One bit of trivia: the Fairmont Banff Springs hosts the most weddings out of any other Fairmont in Alberta except for one other. People on the tour eventually guessed all of them but the correct one: Edmonton. According to the tour guide this is because the Fairmont is the only nice place in that city.
The Fairmont Banff Springs is actually a UNESCO world heritage site. Specifically, the old lobby near the carriage circle. After the tour I headed back to the lobby, which I didn’t really get a good look at when we arrived. The lobby and mezzanine levels are all public, so you should definitely check them out when in Banff, even if you don’t stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
The lobby is a newer section of the hotel, but built out of the same local stone from Mt. Rundle. It is a slightly different color since it hasn’t weathered as much yet. You can see the difference in the exterior of the hotel.
The original developer of the hotel commissioned its construction and then left the area. He returned to find that the building had been built exactly backwards! Now the kitchens at the Fairmont Banff Springs have “million dollar views”.
Dinner in the Rundle Lounge
Since the Fairmont card provided us with two $25 USD certificates for dining or spa services, we figured we couldn’t let those go to waste. After browsing the dining options online (there are at least 6 different restaurants), we settled on the Rundle Lounge since the food was cheaper and the views were some of the best.
We managed to snag a window table just as another couple left. My wife and I both ordered a burger and then sat back to enjoy the view.
The first offerings were some nuts and preztels, which we hadn’t even ordered. Must be complimentary to anyone in the lounge. The house-made ginger ale was AMAZING! I don’t think I’ve had better. Definitely something you should try.
Overall, the food was decent, but nothing to write home about. Sure, we could have gotten something nicer (or more Canadian), but it hit the spot. If we weren’t being so budget-conscious, we probably would have tried the Waldhaus restaurant instead.
Our server was great, and super friendly. He even gave us suggestions on where to visit hot springs the following day. Our plan was to go to Radium, but he said we should go for a more “natural” experience, suggesting the Lussier Hot Springs. Since visiting Lussier turned out to require an extra 2.5 hours of driving, we decided to pass. Still….it’s something to keep in mind for a future trip.
Our stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs ended all too quickly. I wished it could have lasted at least a few more nights. We headed out the next day to Radium Hot Springs and then took a scenic drive through the park before heading back to Calgary for our final two nights.
Some of the main takeaways from our stay:
- The Fairmont Banff Springs one bedroom suite was amazing! I don’t think I would stay in a normal room at this hotel, given their small size.
- Dining options are plentiful, but be prepared to shell out some cash. It’s a 5-star establishment.
- Banff townsite is extremely accessible from the hotel. You can walk to town along the Bow River, or drive there in 3 minutes. This is one of the best features of the Springs hotel over the Lake Louise Fairmont.
- The views of the Canadian Rockies are unparalleled. Really. This is the best feature. There is a nice viewing deck on the 8th floor. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, consider hopping in the elevator and visiting it.
My final note: if Banff isn’t on your list of places to visit, it should be. The park is spectacular. I wouldn’t go in high summer (especially this year since it’s free), but I might try to go a bit later than we did. Mid-May or mid-September would probably be best. You’ll miss the crowds, but should still get to enjoy everything Banff has to offer.
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Great review! I just stayed at the Fairmont Montreux with a similar deal. Service and decor (not to mention view) were outstanding there as well. Glad you got in on the deal!
“The Fairmont Banff Springs one bedroom suite was amazing! I don’t think I would stay in a normal room at this hotel, given their small size.”
So if you were actually on a paid stay, you would pay for the suite versus the standard room? Given your frugality, I question that statement.
While I really enjoyed reading your review, your negativity at times was overshadowed by the fact that you were on a free stay, and using $25 restaurant certificates.
You are completely correct to question whether I would ever shell out money for a suite. I wouldn’t. At $899 CAD per night, there is no way. Nor would I book a standard room for $399 CAD. Even booking the 3rd night using a cash bonus was hard for me to rationalize. It was a wonderful stay, and sadly one we can’t repeat (cheaply) given that the Fairmont card is now a thing of the past.
Looks like a great trip. We were there last year and I am dying to go back. I hadn’t heard that the Fairmont card was gone. I am so sad as I was planning on applying that times 2 and getting to stay there.
We were in a turret suite when we redeemed our night, but it looks like we had about the same view as you did. It was indeed awesome.
One thing you did not mention was if you went to the pool. It was amazing, especially in the mornings, soaking in the warm water and watching the snow-capped mountains. And you don’t even have to pay for this (as it is not a spa service). Even better is you have to be a guest, or pay for spa services to use – though it is on the ground, so visitors can check you out from the patio above.
And it is odd that you chose the self-park. We used valet, and it was included with the free night. Same was true on Lake Louise (we split our nights between the two locations). Definitely preferred Banff, but glad we went to Lake Louise, just would choose not to stay if we could do it again.