I have a regular WordPress Widget that display few posts using WP_Query I'm trying to find a way to display the thumbnail of the first post as a background image for the entire widget div. Here's the visual representation of what I need:

visual representation

The code that I use right now displays a thumbnail for every post:

<div class="widget-wrap-sidebar">
<div class="my-widget">


global $wp_query;
$metakey = 'post_views_count';
$recent_posts = new WP_Query( array( 'cat' => $categories, 'orderby' => $orderby, 'meta_key' => $metakey, 'posts_per_page' => $posts ) );
$temp_query = $wp_query;
$wp_query = null;
$wp_query = $recent_posts;

<?php while( $recent_posts->have_posts() ): $recent_posts->the_post(); ?>

<div class="big-image">
<?php if ( '' != get_the_post_thumbnail() ) : ?>
<?php $thumbnail_url = get_the_post_thumbnail( get_the_ID(), 'big-image' ); ?>
<?php  echo wp_kses_post( $thumbnail_url ); ?>
<?php endif;?>

<div class="the-title">
<a href="<?php echo get_permalink(); ?>" title="<?php echo get_the_title(); ?>">
<?php echo get_the_title(); ?>

<?php endwhile; ?>
<?php wp_reset_query(); ?>

</div><?php // end of my-widget ?>
</div><?php // end of widget-wrap-sidebar ?>

Basically, I need a way to call for the thumbnail URL on the first widget-wrap-sidebar div. Something like this:

<div class="widget-wrap-sidebar" style="background-image:url('<?php echo $thumbnail_url ?>')">

However, I've been unable to make the above code work.
* Please do not consider the CSS part that I can accomplish with ease.

1 Answer 1


Few notes:

  • Just use the_title(); instead of echo get_the_title();
  • Use the_title_attribute() for title attributes.
  • No need to override the global $wp_query when you use a secondary query.
  • Then use wp_reset_postdata() after your secondary query loop.
  • Use the_permalink() that escapes the permalink, instead of the unescaped echo get_permalink();
  • There's the has_post_thumbnail() to check if the post thumbnail is set.
  • Note that get_the_post_thumbnail() returns the post thumbnail image tag, not the url.
  • Check out the_post_thumbnail_url() to get the thumbnail url.
  • To check for the first item in your secondary recent posts loop, you can use if( 0 === $recent_posts->current_post ){ within that loop.


Here's an example (PHP 5.4+):

$recent_posts = new WP_Query( $args );
if( $recent_posts )
    $thumbnail_url = 'https://example.tld/default.png'; // fallback post thumbnail url
    $data          = [];

    // Loop    
    while( $recent_posts->have_posts() )

        // Post thumbnail from the first post
        if( 0 === $recent_posts->current_post )
            $thumbnail_url = get_the_post_thumbnail_url( get_the_ID(), 'medium' );

        // Collect post titles
        $data[] = the_title(
                '<div class="title"><h3><a href="%s">',
                esc_url( get_permalink() )
            ),                 // before
            '</a></h2></div>', // after
            false              // echo

    // Output
    if( $data )
            '<div class="widget-wrap-sidebar" style="background-image: url(%s)">
                 <div class="my-widget">%s</div>
            esc_url( $thumbnail_url ),
            join( '', $data )

Hope it helps.

  • thanks for your valuable tips. Your sugestion works great but what I need, to have more CSS flexibility, is to set a background image like that: <div class="widget-wrap-sidebar" style="background-image:url('<?php echo $thumbnail_url ?>')"> Any tips? Thanks! Nov 18, 2016 at 10:03
  • One approach for your inline styling could be: <style>.widget-wrap-sidebar{ background-image: url( <?php echo esc_url( $thumbnail_url ); ?>);}</style>after your successful loop, where you could use a fallback image if the first post (or any of the other posts) doesn't have a featured image? @AlexandruAndreiCostache
    – birgire
    Nov 18, 2016 at 10:31
  • I'm a bit confusing about "after your successful loop" Can you post your comment as a sample code so I can accept the answer please? Thank you @birgire Nov 18, 2016 at 11:45
  • I updated with an example @AlexandruAndreiCostache
    – birgire
    Nov 18, 2016 at 14:13

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