For the design of a horizontal-axis tidal current turbine with adaptive variable-pitch blades, both numerical simulations and physical model experiments were used to study the hydrodynamic performance of symmetrical airfoil blades based on backward swept models. According to the lift–drag ratio of symmetrical airfoils, variable airfoil sections were selected for each part of the blade in the spanwise direction. Then, three kinds of blades were designed by using different swept-back models from wind turbines. A rotation model with a multi-reference frame was employed to conduct a three-dimensional steady numerical simulation of the turbine model based on the CFD method. The axial thrust and energy-capturing efficiency under different tip speed ratios, as well as the corresponding starting torque under different flow rates, were analyzed. The simulation results indicate that model 2 has optimal start-up performance, and model 3 has the largest power coefficient. The thrust coefficient of model 1 is the smallest. In all, model 2 has better comprehensive performance. The experiments of model 2 show that it has suitable hydrodynamic performance to capture bidirectional energy via passively variable pitch. This research provides an important solution for the design and optimization of horizontal-axis turbines to harvest bidirectional tidal current energy.