Coventry, Paisley, Sunderland, Swansea and Stoke-on-Trent will compete to host a year-long celebration of art and performance as UK City of Culture 2021.
The five locations are on a shortlist for the title, but six other bidding towns and cities missed out.
The five left in the race will hope to emulate the success of Hull, which is UK City of Culture this year.
The title is awarded every four years and the winner for 2021 will be the third UK City of Culture.
It's the birthplace of Philip Larkin, one of England's finest poets, and the home of the 2 Tone ska movement through bands like The Specials and The Selecter.
Venues would include Warwick Arts Centre, the Belgrade Theatre and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. It's not just about the existing culture - it is, as the bid organisers say, "about changing the reputation of a city".
This Renfrewshire town, population 76,000, is perhaps most famous for the Paisley print - the intricate, colourful designs that were inspired by Kashmiri patterns in the 18th Century and popularised in the psychedelic 1960s.
It was also home to Gerry Rafferty, known for his hit Baker Street. Former Doctor Who star David Tennant grew up in the city, while Paolo Nutini's dad runs a fish and chip cafe there. There are plans for Paisley Museum to have a 42m revamp - though it's not due to reopen until 2022.
Stoke is most famous as the capital of the English ceramics industry, which it is trying to revive, with designers like Emma Bridgewater there and Keith Brymer Jones from the BBC's Great Pottery Throwdown about to move into the old Spode factory.
It can also claim Robbie Williams, the Staffordshire Hoard - a treasure trove of Anglo-Saxon gold - and, in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme, the pioneering New Vic theatre.
Sunderland's claims to fame range from Middle Ages chronicler Venerable Bede and England's first ever stained glass window to a fertile indie music scene that spawned bands like Frankie and the Heartstrings and The Futureheads.
It also has The National Glass Centre, the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art and Sunderland Empire. And a new 10m cultural quarter is in development, including a music and arts hub in the old fire station.
Swansea Bay was on the shortlist last time and the city has now come back again.
It is the home of poet Dylan Thomas - as well as a permanent exhibition that opened on his 100th birthday in 2014 - not to mention Catherine Zeta Jones and TV writer Russell T Davies.
Its Glynn Vivian Art Gallery reopened last year after a 6m facelift, and the council says being City of Culture would kick-start its longer-term plans for "culture-led regeneration".
The places that didn't make the shortlist include Perth, which had been the bookmakers' favourite.
All the bidding cities are particularly keen to win the title after seeing the example of what's been achieved in Hull.
Recent research suggests nine out of 10 local residents experienced a City of Culture event in the first three months of the year, while being City of Culture has boosted the local economy by an estimated 60m.
Arts minister John Glen said: "The strength of the competition showed us how valuable our cultural assets are to our towns, boosting tourism and jobs in local communities.
"I have seen first hand how Hull has embraced its status as City of Culture 2017, and how beneficial it has been for the area. I am looking forward to seeing what will come in 2021."
The UK City of Culture scheme is separate from the European Capital of Culture, a title shared this year by Aarhus in Denmark and Paphos in Cyprus.
A British city is expected to be European Capital of Culture in 2023 - despite Brexit - with Leeds, Dundee and Milton Keynes among those interested.