Shortly after arriving to Madrid, during our CIEE orientation, my fellow auxiliars and I were scouring rental websites, competing for affordable rooms in the most desirable neighborhoods in Madrid. During this time I heard from a lot of people, somewhat vaguely, that they were looking to live "in the center." Many of them did end up finding a place in the city center and living there definitely has its advantages: nightlife, reduced travel times, busy city streets. I was initially also set on living in the center; however, when I had the opportunity to rent a recently renovated apartment just a five minute walk from my school for only 300€ including utilities, I knew it was too good to give up. Unfortunately, this meant abandoning my plan of living right in the center.
I was a little worried that living outside of the center would be isolating and keep me from making friends, leaving the house, or being able to appreciate everything the city has to offer. Thankfully, that has not been the case at all. Living right next to my school gives me more free time in the mornings and evenings. Without a long commute, I am able to enjoy life in Madrid even more. Living in an area that feels more like a neighborhood with parks, schools, and families has also allowed me to explore a new area that I otherwise may have never seen and appreciate my local community. I also live in an apartment with a good amount of communal space, modern fixtures, and two terraces. These kinds of amenities are really difficult to find in the center unless you are willing to pay top dollar. I have many friends who live in small rooms with no windows in apartments with little to no communal space. They were willing to sacrifice these things for location. It's really just about your priorities and what is important to you in a home.
If you're planning on living outside the city center, however, I definitely suggest living near a metro line that can get you easily into the center. I live right next to line 1. This has definitely kept me from feeling isolated because I can just hop on the metro with my abono (unlimited rides for just 20€ a month) and be almost anywhere in 15-25 minutes. I would also suggest living with or near a friend. This way, you can plan to do things in your own neighborhood, share a cab after a night out, or hang out without having to brave the crowds of the city center.
I can confidently say that living slightly outside the center in order to be close to my school, have a recently refurbished apartment and lower rent was the right decision for me. I love my neighborhood and I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by living where I do. What I lost in location, I gained in time and money, and that is totally worth it for me. The housing hunt can be stressful and competitive, so don't miss out on an amazing opportunity by limiting your apartment search. Things often seem to work out when you keep an open mind!