Rational design and synthesis of superior electrocatalysts for ethanol oxidation is crucial to practical applications of direct ethanol fuel cells. Here, we report that the construction of Pd-Zn dual sites with well exposure and uniformity can significantly improve the efficiency of ethanol electro-oxidation. Through synthetic method control, Pd-Zn dual sites on intermetallic PdZn nanoparticles, Pd-Pd sites on Pd nanoparticles and individual Pd sites are respectively obtained on the same N-doped carbon coated ZnO support. Compared with Pd-Pd sites and individual Pd sites, Pd-Zn dual sites display much higher activity for ethanol electro-oxidation, exceeding that of commercial Pd/C by a factor of ~24. Further computational studies disclose that Pd-Zn dual sites promote the adsorption of ethanol and hydroxide ion to optimize the electro-oxidation pathway with dramatically reduced energy barriers, leading to the superior activity. This work provides valuable clues for developing high-performance ethanol electro-oxidation catalysts for fuel cells.