At a Distance....
the map of Madrid can be daunting, because Google shows longer routes than the length of the actual trip. The center of Madrid is actually very walkable. Therefore, google maps is best used when walking. The more you walk, the more surprised you are at how small the city could feel. The metro stops are located about a 6-10 minute walk away from one to another. So, ultimately you can walk district to district very easily. If you take a look at the metro map, it might look confusing. But, the entire grey section is easily walkable. Keep on looking. You can walk just two miles from Principe Pio on the west side to Retiro park on the east side in 45 minutes. The width of the center is just two miles, which isn’t much.
Point made: The center of Madrid really isn't all that big. I live by the Opera metro and work in Villaverde Alto (the yellow line in the south). I could walk to Sol Metro in 7 minutes, take the metro to Villaverde Alto in 25 minutes, and walk 10 more minutes to my school. Just to give you an idea of what your commute might be like.
Choosing where to live
I'm a cityboy and wanted to be as near to the center as possible. I also don't like living in outdated places with old furniture (which a lot of homes in Spain are like). In addition to my preferences, I do not speak Spanish much, so using the sites like idealista (think Craigslist) would have been way too stressful for me. I chose to use SpotAHome to secure my place (think Airbnb for flats). SpotAhome charges a 140 euro fee, but cuts out all the stress of competing with others to secure a place to live. You can view videos of the entire flat and your potential room and then automatically book your home like you would with Airbnb. I would recommend this option to those who don't want to be stressed out. It's nice to know you have a place to live when you arrive.
Also, depending on where your school is located, Atocha and Sol are the biggest transport hubs. If you can live relatively close to either station, your overall commute to work will be easier. And if your school is far away from the center, it might be worth it to pay less and be closer to your school for a quick and easy commute. You can always travel to the city whenever you want, but you have to know what your daily life might be like. It gets expensive living in the center. Food is more expensive and you have more to do, so you might end up spending more on your daily activities. Everyone is different, of course, so you'll have to follow your needs. At the end of the day, there isn't a better answer. You might not live here for that long anyway, so regardless of your choice you will get used to it and make the best of it.
Tip: Book with Spotahome in the center for the shortest lease possible.You can get comfortable in the city, and be near all the main shopping to get your initial move-in items easily. Then, once you make your friends, feel comfortable with your Spanish, and have discovered which neighborhood you would like best to live in, you can move there for the remainder of your time in Madrid.
How to pack
I had no idea how to pack for Madrid. I also flew with TAPAir Portugal which claimed to be strict with their dimensions and weight for carry-on baggage. I had measured and weighed my bags to a T, just to board my flights without any of my carry-ons being checked. (However, international flights do check, you may or may not get lucky.)
Okay, let's start off with what clothes to pack. You’ll definitely want to bring a nice neutral color (black, gray, tan) pea coat. You will most likely wear this every morning, and every night along with a scarf. You will also want to bring a really warm, puffy, water resistant, hooded jacket for the rain and windy days. Bring a pair of water resistant, comfortable boots. Walking/ athletic shoes. Regular casual shoes. Everyone here wears super skinny jeans, by the way. So that's the vibe, your not-so-skinny fit pants might be put to shame. I would bring 5 pairs of pants. 1 black, 1 dark jean, 1 light jean, 1 gray, 1 casual/ripped/distressed. Bring 7 t-shirts, different colors. A few different colored button-up long sleeves (like flannels or solid) as you'll want to be layered up with your pea coat. Maybe some turtle necks or other long sleeves if you're into that. 10 pairs of underwear and 10 pairs of socks. Gloves. A bunch of washable masks, maybe 10 or more. 3 towels if you can. A universal converter. All of your favorite skincare products, because they might not have what you usually use here in Spain.
Very important: Over-the-counter medicine here is ridiculously expensive and you have to go to these pharmacies and talk to the pharmacist with what you want. There aren't any Target’s or CVS’s here. I just feel it's awkward and rather annoying to have to talk to someone about something potentially personal. So bring all your vitamins and medicines for the following and more: allergies, sore throat, cough, cold, headaches, aches, etc. Whatever you usually need throughout the year, make sure to bring these.
Everything else you can pretty-much buy here. Those are the most important things to bring with you, so prioritize. Also, fashion is really affordable here. Just go shopping for eveything else you might want. There isn't any tax here either, so it is nice to just pay for what you see.
I hope this helps you more with figuring things out. It is extremely stressful to get to Madrid, but once you are here it is so simple and easy. On your first day here, go to Vodafone and get your phone set up, go to Santander and set up your bank account, and make an appointment at Atocha to get your Abono travel card. Go to Primark for all of your household items. You're probably going to have to buy a duvet, which is a comforter... but there aren't dryers in Spain, so they sell duvet covers. You can dry your duvet covers easily. You'll buy two fitted bed sheets, so you can use your second while drying the other. Buy a few pillow sheets so you can do the same. Corte Ingles is a huge supermarket, so you might want to go there as well to get everything else you might need to get settled in. Everything else will fall into place, it's really simple here. Life is just so easy here, I'm telling you.