Highly efficient and selective electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide represents one of the biggest scientific challenges in artificial photosynthesis, where carbon dioxide and water are converted into chemical fuels from solar energy. However, our fundamental understanding of the reaction is still limited and we do not have the capability to design an outstanding catalyst with great activity and selectivity a priori. Here we assemble uniform gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles with different compositions into ordered monolayers, which serve as a well-defined platform to understand their fundamental catalytic activity in carbon dioxide reduction. We find that two important factors related to intermediate binding, the electronic effect and the geometric effect, dictate the activity of gold-copper bimetallic nanoparticles. These nanoparticle monolayers also show great mass activities, outperforming conventional carbon dioxide reduction catalysts. The insights gained through this study may serve as a foundation for designing better carbon dioxide electrochemical reduction catalysts.