Palladium colloidal nanoparticles with an average size of approximately 2.4 nm have been incorporated into mesoporous inorganic thin films following a multistep approach. This involves the deposition of mesoporous titania thin films with a thickness of 200 nm by spin-coating on titanium plates with a superhydrophilic titania outer layer and activation by calcination in a vacuum furnace at 573 K. Nanoparticles have been confined within the porous titania network by dip-coating noble metal suspensions onto these mesoporous thin films. Finally, the resulting nanoconfined systems were used as substrates for the growth of oriented carbon nanotubes (CNTs) using plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition at 923 K in order to enhance their surface area. These CNTs were tested in the hydrogenation of phenylacetylene by hydrogen in a batch reactor. The initial reaction rate observed on a CNT/TiO2 structured catalyst was considerably higher than that on 1 wt% Pd/TiO2 thin films. © 2009 The Author(s).