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From what I understand on the TFL site, there is no option to simply buy a single one way ticket. This seems odd to me and I want to make sure I'm not missing something.

I will only be in London for 2 days and plan to take the tube no more than 2 or 3 times, so it doesn't make much sense to buy an oystercard. (I read there is an activation cost and you won't get a full refund if you use it for such a short time).

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    If you have a contactless credit card, you can simply use that instead of an Oyster card. – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '15 at 13:34
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    As per the TFL fares table, a zone 1 single on Oyster is £2.30, on a paper ticket is £4.80. Two journeys in your trip and you'll have saved the Oyster deposit! – Gagravarr Sep 3 '15 at 13:35
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    Not to mention the deposit can be refunded or the card taken as a souvenir. – insidesin Sep 3 '15 at 13:48
  • Even if you don't yet have a contactless credit card it's worth asking your bank if they can replace your current one given how easy it makes travel. – Flexo Sep 3 '15 at 14:50
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    @JamesThorpe yes you can. Related question (for you and original asker): Is an OysterCard worth it for occasional 1-day visits from outside London? – user56reinstatemonica8 Sep 3 '15 at 15:19
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I will only be in London for two days and plan to take the Tube no more than 2 or 3 times, so it doesn't make much sense to buy an Oyster card.

You can buy single journey paper tickets for the tube, but they strongly discourage it through pricing. I just looked up a zone 1 Tube fare and it was £2.40 on Oyster but £4.90 on a paper ticket.

At those prices even if you don't get your card deposit back (or you get the visitor card with its non-refundable charge) it doesn't take very many journeys for Oyster to beat paper tickets.

Another option is to use a contactless credit/debit card but if you have a non-UK card beware of foreign transaction fees.

Also note that while you can use paper single tickets on the Tube you can't use them on buses in London. Your only options there are Oyster, contactless and travelcards.

(I read there is an activation cost and you won't get a full refund if you use it for such a short time).

There are two types of Oyster card. Regular cards and Visitor cards. Regular cards have a £5 refundable deposit, Visitor cards have a £3 non-refundable "activation fee". The Visitor card can only be obtained outside London. Regular cards can be obtained at any Tube station. The Visitor card comes with a few special offers for London attractions that the regular card doesn't but otherwise the cards are much the same.

AIUI with cash at a machine you can top up any amount down to the smallest coins the machine will take while if you pay by card at a machine or pay at a ticket office the minimum top-up is £5.

Getting the deposit and remaining credit refunded used to require dealing with a manned ticket office but it seems it's now possible to do it at a ticket machine.

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There is the possibility to buy a simple paper ticket, but it is not actively advertised on the web page:

This page states that paper tickets are available. In order to look up the fares, you can use the fare calculator. For example, this link computes the cost for a one-way trip from Paddington Station to Heathrow. Note that three prices are given: A peak price, an off-peak price, and a cash price. The latter is what you are looking for.

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    This PDF shows the oyster vs non-oyster prices a little bit more clearly, I think – Gagravarr Sep 3 '15 at 13:36
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Very short answer: Absolutely! You can get a ticket at the ticket office or the ticket machines in every station. You can use coins, notes (pounds) (you will get change unless otherwise indicated on the machine) or credit and cash cards.

However, it is more expensive to buy paper tickets.

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    The links in DCTLib's answer seem to contradict your comment about pricing even single tickets are considerably cheaper on Oyster compared to "cash single" – CMaster Sep 3 '15 at 14:55
  • That is correct, so the response is edited. – NIk Sep 3 '15 at 15:02
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Yes, you can buy a paper ticket for single journey. This ticket is available for peak price, an off-peak price, and a cash price. Now, all about your choice.

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