Bamako is undoubtedly somewhere that is worth going to mainly for the experience, rather than any abundance of obvious attractions. However, there are nevertheless still a few things that might be potentially interesting to see. I feel that at least some are well worth spending time visiting, as they help to gain a good insight into the everyday life of the city.
Probably the single most important tourist sight is the National Museum, which is some way to the north of the centre. The ethnographic collection exhibited there is reputedly one of the very best in the region, which is largely due to the efforts of former archaeologist Alpha Oumar Konaré during his presidency. Unfortunately, there was no public access whilst I was in the country because of an ambitious refurbishment project.
Instead, going to the expansive and incredibly vibrant markets proved to be the most enjoyable part of spending time in the city. Close to the heart of what is in effect one vast outdoor emporium is the Saudi built Grand Mosque. In Malian terms, the structure is unusual because the general look, featuring soaring concrete minarets, is much more representative of the Middle East than West Africa, and also because non-Muslims are occasionally allowed to enter. Although definitely not as picturesque as some mud-brick counterparts elsewhere in the country, the scene around it on Fridays is certainly eye-catching as worshippers fill the precinct.
Meanwhile, the French left behind a couple of colonial era landmarks in broadly the same area. The first is a now little used sandstone cathedral, which is pleasant enough, although its European styling admittedly looks somewhat out of place. A similarly aged place that is much busier and more important to the local population nowadays is the train station. It is the terminus of the railway line from Dakar, and has a lovely façade that includes a notable gabled clock tower. Next door is the renowned Buffet de la Gare, where live performers sometimes play, including occasionally the legendary Super Rail Band.
Finally, spending time along the banks of the Niger is highly rewarding, and the stretch between the two main bridges on the north side of the river is particularly good. Not only are there lots of well tended lush green gardens that are full of bright flowers, fruit trees and vegetable plantations, but visions of daily life, such as large groups of the city's female population scrubbing bright garments in the waters, are also common. Towering above everything is the BCEAO tower, a skyscraper that dominates the skyline for miles around. Aside from being one of the tallest buildings in the vicinity, it is also noteworthy for a design that imaginatively draws inspiration from architecture typical of the Sahel.