Blackpool, Bradford, Newcastle-Gateshead and Sheffield have been shortlisted to host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018.
The exhibition, which will run for at least two months, will showcase the creative, cultural and design sectors across northern England, and aims to boost investment and tourism in the region.
The shortlist is being assessed by the Great Exhibition board before a final selection is made by ministers.
The chosen venue will be announced in the autumn.
The government is contributing £5 million towards the exhibition and a further £15 million to a legacy fund to attract further cultural investment in the north.
Nine bids were submitted in total, from Halifax, Harrogate, Scunthorpe, St Helens and Whitehaven, as well as the shortlisted venues.
Matt Hancock, digital and culture minister, said: “British arts and culture are among the finest in the world. I am determined we democratise the arts and celebrate the best in every part of our nation.
“Cultural investment can bring enormous benefits for communities – it drives regeneration, promotes tourism and increases life chances.”
Sir Gary Verity, chair of the Great Exhibition of the North Board, added: “This is an incredible opportunity to really showcase the creativity and culture we have here in the north.”