Here's a basic map to get you oriented with an attempt at making the scales appropriate:
But after living here for a bit, I have this caricature map in my head:
As for which is "correct": well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
I know that some items are not consistent between the two maps - there's a reason why one is labeled as more correct scale-wise than the other. The main difference is that Puerta del Sol is HUGE in the caricature map - the reason for this is that it seems that no matter where you walk in the city, you will always hit Puerta del Sol. If you meet there before going out for the night, you will invariably come back to it again. Guidebooks say to go there because you can find everything you need in Madrid starting there. That's definitely true, but you should always explore other areas. It's central, very touristy, but also a good landmark.
A one-sentence blurb about each of the map components, in order from most common to least common:
- Puerta del Sol - the hub of activity in Madrid. It is the actual center of the city, the tourist center of the city, the food center of the city, and the metro center of the city. All roads lead to the Puerta del Sol, and if you meet people here you will invariably be at a good place to start an evening of fun.
- Plaza Mayor - the second nearly-adjacent-to-Sol hub of food and tapas
- Gran Vía - the "broadway" of Madrid, separating the Puerta del Sol area from the north area. Below Gran Vía is very touristy and generally more expensive. North of Gran Vía is generally more residential and a bit cheaper.
- Chueca - Madrid's gay district. It's really only a few square blocks, but it has some nice bars and tapas places. Sam, Cristina, Lucas, Will, and Carlos live there.
- La Latina - cheap shopping area with lots of good tapas places, a street of all-hiking-and-camping-gear stores, and holds El Rastro on Sunday morning.
- Lavapiés - the "ethnic" part of Madrid, with a Senegalese ghetto, a Chinese ghetto, an Indian ghetto, and probably more ghettos that are distinct but that I can't recognize.
- Parque del Retiro - a huge park (think Central Park). retiro literally means "retirement", but it is meant to mean relaxation. Lots of locals and tourists alike just relaxing and enjoying the nice weather.
- Atocha train station - most trains coming to Madrid from other cities arrive/depart from here. It's at the southeastern tip of the Madrid that most tourists will see. Very close to the Prado and Reina Sofía museums.
- Moncloa - very university-student-heavy region, with lots of university students renting apartments there, since it is very close to a number of different universities.
- Plaza de España - has a statue of Don Quixote, some pretty buildings, and signifies the end of Gran Vía. Adjacent to the Templo de Debod, a common botellón location. 5 minute walk from my apartment. Evelin, Sophie, and Mary live very close to it.
- Palacio Royal - the Royal Palace. It's pretty.
- Chamartín train station - trains going to some cities. Need to go here to make reservations on trains with my Eurail pass. Takes a long time on the metro...
- My work - near the Gregorio Marañon metro stop, a bit closer to where I live than Chamartín but on the same metro line. Cecily and Lionel live close to it.
- Bulderking - an only-bouldering gym that I determined to be the closest to my apartment