Organic–inorganic perovskite solar cells (PSC) are gaining widespread recognition due to their higher performances and low-cost relative to other photovoltaic technologies. However, the efficient charge collection and rapid electron transportation are the key parameters desirable for the development of optimized electron transport layer (ETL) in PSC. In this research work, hydrothermally synthesized zirconium-doped titania nanoparticles (Zr-TiO2) were introduced as an ETL in a n–i–p planar configuration. The Zr-doped TiO2 nanoparticles were characterized for various morphological, structural and optical studies by using SEM, EDX, XRD, Raman, PL and UV-Vis spectroscopy techniques. The photocatalytic activity of newly synthesized Zr-TiO2 nanoparticles was investigated by CV, EIS and tafel measurements. The current–voltage characteristics (J-V) of the newly fabricated PSC devices were investigated under 1 sun condition. The superior power conversion efficiency (PCE) of 12.35 % was observed with 0.2 M Zr-doped TiO2 based ETL in PSC. The remarkable PCE in 0.2 M Zr-doped TiO2 nanoparticles-based PSC is attributed to significant enhancement in charge carrier extraction and due to less recombination reactions at interfaces.