Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanostructures have been extensively used as electrochemical sensing material for the development of biosensors and bioimplantable devices. It is important to evaluate their electrochemical performance while developing materials with rapid response time and higher sensitivity. Herein, we present a novel one-step low-temperature hydrothermal technique for simultaneous nitrogen doping and growth of ZnO (N-ZnO) nanostructures. Nitrogen addition is expected to enhance the electron mobility and hence the electrical conductivity of ZnO. The nanostructures were characterized by X-ray diffraction, UV–Vis spectroscopy and field emission scanning electron microscopy. The electrochemical properties were studied by electrochemical impedance spectroscopy and cyclic voltammetry using an N-ZnO/Ag/Glass symmetric two-electrode system. The nitrogen addition to ZnO lattice is suggested by XRD peak shift, changing lattice parameters and dislocation density as compared to pristine ZnO. A substantial increase in the electrochemical response and conductivity can be attributed to nitrogen incorporation into ZnO lattice. © 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to The Materials Research Society.