Birmingham has been shortlisted for first UK City of Culture title in 2013.
The city will now have to compete against Derry, Norwich and Sheffield to win the title, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said.
Culture Minister Margaret Hodge revealed the line-up after bids from 14 long-listed cities were scrutinised by an independent judging panel. She congratulated the final four and said: "It's a testament to their hard work - and dedication to culture - that they've come so far in what has proven to be a very tough competition.
"I'm really pleased that we attracted such a strong and varied field. It just goes to show the richness of culture across the UK."
Coun Martin Mullaney, chairman of the Birmingham Cultural Partnership, which has been set up to run the bid, said: “To have got so far against tough opposition from across the UK is a fantastic boost for Birmingham. But this is just the first stage and we’re not getting carried away.
“There’s a lot of hard work ahead and now we want people across the city to play a part as we put together the final bid that will mean Birmingham is named the UK’s first ever City of Culture.
“This is very much a Birmingham bid, not just a city council bid, and we are keen to involve as many people across the city as possible. As we move into the final decisive stage of the selection process, we still want to hear your ideas on www.canvasbirmingham.com .”
Stuart Griffiths, chief executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome, said: “This is fantastic news for culture in the city and I know that all our cultural organisations are supporting the bid and are right behind this whole process.
“Making the shortlist will give us great impetus to really pull out all the stops and win the title in the summer. Winning will be such a huge boost for us in terms of profiling are offer both inside and outside the city and have an immense impact on the opportunities for all arts and cultural organisations across Birmingham.”
The winning city will be announced during the summer.
Phil Redmond, the TV mogul who chaired the independent advisory panel, said: "In deciding on the four cities recommended, the panel was influenced by the expected step change each city was asked to envisage if they gained the title and subsequent media spotlight."
Mr Redmond, who was creative director for Liverpool's year as capital of culture, added: "It was a hard choice but also heartening that all bidders had recognised the power of culture to bring people together; to work collectively within existing resources for a common goal and bring into being networks that may not have existed before.
"For those not on the shortlist, that is still a powerful and valuable achievement, with a reminder that 2013 is only the first time the title will be awarded. 2017 is not that far away."
Figures on the independent judging panel also include TV and radio presenter Lauren Laverne. Being crowned capital of culture is expected to provide a multimillion-pound boost to the successful location.